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Off the shelf: four titles that are pretty as a picture for Christmas


You might not have checked, but apparently you blew £359 on Christmas last year. At least, that’s what the data from Statista suggests on the average festive spend for people in the west country. 

For some reason known only to its citizens, Northern Ireland emerged as the most generous when it comes to splashing out on presents and celebrations (£482), while across the UK our spending was down between 2019 and 2020. Apart from in Wales, that is, where no degree of pandemic suppressed an average budget that stood fast at £420 for both seasons.

It seems unlikely we’ll be spending more this year, but will we be spending differently? According to consumer trend analysts at Kantar, if the pandemic is not making people overtly less materialistic, it is causing us to reconsider our aspirations and redefine success. All the more reason, when we are spending, to think books. If well-chosen and apt, it may be a gift for life.

Or not. The Guardian recently warned of the ‘excruciating pitfalls’ of buying the wrong book, no matter how kindly meant. Obvious danger zones are self-help psychology, guides to dieting and how to look ten years younger. And in fiction? Who knows what message may lurk in the plot that leaves your recipient vowing to never speak to you again.

Which is why non-fiction makes a far wiser choice for anyone hoping not to see their gift in a Stroud charity shop come January. All of which brought us to raiding the review shelf of Stroud’s Amberley Publishing. With four titles thrust at Stroud Times as likely hits, here’s my pitstop guide to whether they’re worth wrapping up.

Stroud and the Five Valleys From Old Photographs. | Off the shelf: four titles that are pretty as a picture for Christmas

Stroud and the Five Valleys From Old Photographs, Howard Beard £14.99

Like a child up at 5am, I’m unwrapping the most obviously attractive one first. Local author Howard Beard’s pic-heavy foray into the last century (or so) of our immediate history could be subtitled ‘the joy of looking at dead people’, though that might put some readers off.

The Bread Boy Chalford | Off the shelf: four titles that are pretty as a picture for Christmas
The Bread Boy, Chalford.
The Ritz Cinema | Off the shelf: four titles that are pretty as a picture for Christmas
The Ritz Cinema.
The Great Snow of 1916 | Off the shelf: four titles that are pretty as a picture for Christmas
Bisley during the Great Snow of 1916.

The people photographed were, obviously, all alive, but the stock-still necessity of vintage photography lends an intensity to the those captured in these pages; you could spend hours staring into the details of their images, marvelling at the Chalford boy who delivered bread atop a donkey, the Oakridge postie who carried a big stick to ward off dogs, the pageantry of Brimscombe’s horse-drawn fire brigade. It’s well-written, too, with plenty of painstaking detail to underpin these intimate depictions of local life. Once on the bookshelf of any self-respecting Stroudie, I can’t imagine this one being nudged off.

IMG 6732 | Off the shelf: four titles that are pretty as a picture for Christmas

Gloucestershire in Photographs, Aleks Gjika £16.99

This, I believe, is what most aspiring coffee tables have been waiting for. Aleks Gjika, born in Albania, is a professional lensman and member of Cheltenham Camera Club, this work being a 126-image love letter to Gloucestershire. He’s clearly very smitten, and the landscape seems to love him back as we journey through a four-seasons perspective of tableaux that lay bare his adulation for the county. As befits the genre, this is a relentlessly beautiful oeuvre, though I’d take issue with one – albeit lovely – image of a classic car scrambling up Nailsworth’s W. When I once had the misfortune of taking part, there was much more grit, grime and fumes filling the air. But as photostudies go, this is a romance, and if you can’t be romantic at Christmas…

IMG 6733 | Off the shelf: four titles that are pretty as a picture for Christmas

Secret Cotswolds, Sue Hazeldine £14.99

This is an assembly of features written by the author for Cotswold Life magazine. Sue’s travels have taken her to some of the more obscure corners of the county as well as those that are well documented. In many ways, this could serve as a great gift for Gloucestershire newbies, bringing them swiftly up to speed on such back stories as Shurdington’s cheese rollers, as well as such back-breakers as the reality of legging a barge through the ill-fated Sapperton Tunnel. Nostalgia can obscure some great stories and Sue has unearthed a few here.

IMG 6731 | Off the shelf: four titles that are pretty as a picture for Christmas

50 Gems of Gloucestershire, Mark Turner £14.99

This is somewhat in the same vein as Secret Cotswolds, being a brisk romp through some of the reasons you might fire up the car and head for a local Sunday drive. I was somewhat disappointed that Stroud, as well as my own native Wotton-under-Edge, are bypassed in the pursuit of more classically touristic points of interest, though the author has had to subject the county map to the burning question of what constitutes a ‘gem’ and, to be fair, Bisley, Painswick and Nailsworth get a shout for their obvious appeals. Given the map and numbered sections, this would work well as a glovebox guide. And it’d be perfect for inspiring country walks, come January. After a calorific Christmas lozzocking around and reading all these, such inspiration might, dare one say, even be vital?

More information: https://www.amberley-books.com/

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