New skills to get stuck into this year

PUBLISHED: 13:58 06 January 2014 | UPDATED: 11:42 16 January 2014

Preparing to serve (c) Ryan McVay

Preparing to serve (c) Ryan McVay

(c) Ryan McVay

It can be all too easy at this time of year to slip into bad habits and comfy slippers. Instead of hibernating, why not kick off 2014 by learning a new skill?

Shooting at CowdrayShooting at Cowdray

Writing a children’s story

Have you ever finished telling a particularly rip-roaring children’s bedtime yarn and thought: I wish I had written that down?

If the answer’s yes, then Random House’s two-day courses, hosted at Hotel du Vin, may be just the ticket.

Alan Durant’s popular children’s books include Always and Forever and Burger Boy. Now Alan, a Brighton resident, is sharing years of experience at these workshops. I sampled a truncated version of the course.

A small group – classes don’t exceed 15 – had been asked to bring along a childhood toy. And that is how I found myself, for the first time since the age of four, scribbling away at a desk with my beloved and much-worn bear at my side.

Alan wanted to put us back in touch with our childhood. For many of us, the past really does seem like another country, but the simple presence of my bear made me realise that four-year-old me does still exist somewhere.

I think all of us in the group had entered with a certain amount of swagger: really, how hard could it be? Then we began to appreciate the many considerations: vocabulary; humour; and imagination. Alan had brought along a vast collection of stuffed toys upon which we could base our story’s characters. I selected a dragon, christening him Snarf. In my story, Snarf had to deal with his sister starting school and his resulting loneliness. After lunch, illustrator Guy Parker-Rees joined us to explain things from a visual perspective.

I don’t think Snarf will be bothering the bestsellers’ lists in years to come, but I had a wonderful time getting to know him. Course attendees have the opportunity to pitch their ideas to Sue Buswell, Deputy Publisher at Random House Children’s Publishing.

The next course runs from 25 – 27 January 2014 at Hotel du Vin Brighton. It costs £295 including tuition, refreshments and one lunch.

Places are limited to 15. Tickets can be purchased from


Shooting - Apsley Sporting Shooting School, Cowdray

“Bum, belly, beak, bang!”

Although this may sound like something from a nursery rhyme, the words make perfect sense when put into context – when shooting a moving target with a shotgun, you should sweep from behind the target, cross it from ‘tail’ to ‘beak’ and then pull the trigger, all in one long, smooth movement. I am about halfway through my first shooting lesson, and am flanked on either side by keen shots; over my right shoulder is my fantastically encouraging

instructor, Darron Carver of the Apsley Sporting Shooting School at Cowdray Park, and to my left is my father (looking the most excited I’ve seen him in years), hopping erratically from one foot to the other and squinting up at the sky in optimistic anticipation. He has never had a son you see, never played rugby in the garden or aided in the tying of a first fly; when he whoops and hollers at the boat race, the Six Nations and the Grand Prix, he does so alone. But now the time has come for all this to change, as I, his first-born, have manfully taken up the cause.

As my first shot on target smashed the clay into tiny smithereens, to look at my father’s face you would think that Christmas had come. In fact there was no need to look, as his general mood could be pretty accurately interpreted through the loud “yipppeeee!” that echoed across the shooting

ground – and I was wearing ear defenders. Whether you want to book a course, or a single lesson, this is the place. Safety is paramount, and firearms can be provided. Contact Darron Carver on 01730 776453, 07525 911233.




Badgers Tennis Club, Hove, 07798 734637;
East Hoathly and Halland Tennis Club, 01825 840925;
Maresfield Lawn Tennis Club, 01825 768532;
Storrington Tennis Club, 01903 740029;
Lindfield Lawn Tennis Club, 01444 454453;



East Sussex Salmon and Trout Association, 07972 801914;
Ouse Angling Preservation Society
Petworth and Bognor Angling Club
Billingshurst Angling Society, 01403 782160;

Crawley Angling Society, 01293 521186;



Alfriston Cricket Club;
Brighton and Hove Cricket Club;
Firle Cricket Club, 07968 435045;
Westbourne Cricket Club, 01243 375658;
Singleton Cricket Club;


Fun running

The Fittleworth Flyers;
The Haywards Heath Harriers;
The Hastings Hash House Harriers;
The Wadhurst Runners;
The Heathfield Road Runners;


Rugby league

Chichester RFC, 01243 779820;
Midhurst RFC, 07785 580121;
Worthing RFC, 01903 784706;
Lewes RFC, 01273 473732;
Hastings Bexhill RFC, 01424 444255;


Butchery- Green Farm Barn, Washington

If, like me, you’ve ever sat in a restaurant and been confused about where on the animal the cuts of meat come from, then I cannot recommend a butchery course enough. I believe that if you eat meat then you should not only know where it comes from, but also understand the process behind how it came to be the cut that appears on your plate, or the supermarket shelf. Despite having grown up in the countryside, skinning rabbits and plucking pheasants, I could not say that I knew where each cut came from. But I do now. At Green Farm Barn near Washington, you can do a morning, a day, an evening, a week or a month – the list is endless and everything is tailored to your needs and what exactly you want to get out of it. You can come in a pair, in anything up to a group of six, or by arrangement in larger groups. On arrival I was given a bacon sandwich – made with bacon

that had been butchered and smoked on site. Over breakfast in the farm’s kitchen, we discussed what I wanted to achieve – to get a better grasp of the cuts of meat on an animal, to butcher an animal myself, and to make my own sausages. I achieved all of this and much more – I have never been

squeamish about such things, but I thoroughly enjoyed getting hands-on experience of taking an animal from slaughterhouse to sausage.

The tutorage was fantastically friendly, with owner Richard Cook and his team, who bend over backwards to make sure that you’re getting the most

out of it. I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys a ham sandwich or a Sunday roast – this is where your meat comes from.

To book yourself in, fill in a form at


Food for thought

Ashdown Manna Cookery School

A small independent cookery school, offering half and full day courses from their newly converted barn in Blackham. 01825 712434;


Findon Steakhouse

Lessons and courses that are designed to be a fun, informative and all-round tasty experience. Each sesson can be tailored to your requirements. 01903 877277;


Sujoco Cookery School, Lodsworth

Nestling under the South Downs in a converted stable block and blessed with the finest local produce in the country, SuJoCo makes cooking entertaining and informative for everyone; from the novice to the accomplished, the timid to the exuberant, and the amateurs to the professionals. 01798 861731;


The Beach Bistro, Rye

Perfect for enthusiastic home cooks, with a focus on seasonal, locally sourced ingredients. Uniquely, their courses involve a trip to meet one of their suppliers to get an insight into where the produce comes from. Days culminate with a masterclass hosted by their head chef, where a variety of seasonal dishes are prepared. 01797 225057;


Sussex Wine School, Brighton

An independent wine education company, they run wine tastings and wine courses in central Brighton (at Hotel du Vin), for people who enjoy wine and would like to learn more about it. No previous wine tasting experience is necessary. 01435 884271;


Creative minds

West Dean College

This beautiful and world-renowned institution offers both full and part-time educational programmes, from short courses to postgraduate qualifications. Even the brochure is enough to get your creative juices flowing, with subjects ranging from book-binding to musical instrument-making.

To find out more or request a brochure, visit or call 01243 811301.


Forest Garden Shovelstrode

This forest garden was created by Lisa Aitken and Charles Hooper, who share a passion for horticulture and self-sufficiency. Choose from building a clay oven to bowl-carving, and get back to nature.

To find out more, visit or call Lisa Aitken on 07956 815458 or Charles Hooper on 07957 621672.


Lara Sparks Embroidery

With 20 years’ experience of designing and producing embroidery for the bridal, fashion and textile industries, Lara now makes soft furnishings using freehand machine embroidery and runs one-day teaching courses. All you need is a basic sewing machine. Four week workshops are also available.

For dates and availability visit or call 01903 502392.


Northbrook College, Worthing

There’s a dizzying array of art options, ranging from interior design to rag rug-making. You could even learn to make a Tiffany-style stained glass lamp. One-day courses include life-painting and print-making.

To find out more or request a brochure, visit or call 0845 155 6060.


Plumpton College

This agricultural education centre offers all sorts of qualifications, including garden design and floristry. There are several dedicated floristry classrooms both in the main college and within the College’s Horticultural Centre for Vocational Excellence. The Department has won many awards, including Fusion Flowers Gold designer award (twice), five Medal of Excellence awards from City and Guilds, Hampton Court silver medal and Covent Garden Inter-College win, all in the last five years.

To find out more, visit or call 01273 890 454.


Just sew... Clothkits, Chichester

I have a secret, and it’s hidden away in a cupboard under the television. Apparently lots of women suffer the same problem, waiting years to speak out. If, like me and many of my coursemates, you got a sewing machine for Christmas but don’t actually know how to use it, teacher Fiona Hesford

may be the answer to your prayers.

At this day course at Clothkits, Chichester, one lady had made all her own soft furnishings for years but wanted to cure herself of bad habits. Another had never touched a machine. I’d made things like cushion covers and bunting but had no confidence – or the ability to sew in a straight line.

The morning started with the fundamentals – threading the machine and winding our bobbins. Then we had a go at straight lines, turning corners and sewing a curve on plain fabric. While one of the attendees presented a beautiful geometric design, my practice stitching was a bit more haphazard.

In order to learn the day’s techniques, we undertook a number of projects; most of them, rather adorably, in miniature. First up was gathering,

which left us with a little frilly apron. Next, we tried appliqué. This I had imagined to be a frightening complex procedure best left to American pioneer women but, with the addition of a template and iron-on paper, was easy.

After lunch we tackled our Everest: a tote bag made from a vibrant printed fabric which, I found, had a strongly motivational effect: it’s the first sewing project I’ve made of which I’ve been genuinely quite proud. The course, called Make Your Mother Proud - Learn to Sew, runs from 10am to

3.30pm twice a month, including 11 and 14 January, and costs £49.50. A sequel to the course is also available, alongside more advanced classes and an after-school club.

Telephone Clothkits on 01243 533180 or visit the website:

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