A Good Read – Russell Brand – Revolution.

revolution-russell-brandRevolution – Russell Brand

Russell Brand? Never gave him much thought until recently. He was just some quite funny bloke with a massive ego and a lot of women. Then I heard he was actually a troubled soul who wanted to start a revolution and build Utopia and he began to sound like my kind of man.

I watched his documentary, The Emperors New Clothes and came away fired up, wanting to do something but not knowing quite where to direct this energy. I feel the same way after reading his book Revolution.

Revolution sets forth a case as to why our present economic and governmental system is exploiting ordinary people to make profit for a few wealthy men and women. It sets out what the alternative could be and it makes these arguments accessible. So far, so good.

True, Russell Brand is not the most coherent of writers. He goes off on rambling asides which sometimes seem to lead nowhere. The sort of stories which probably work much better in Stand Up than in print. However, he does make ideas which could be dry and hard work, readable. He uses his fame and notoriety in well intentioned ways and I won’t knock him for that.

I don’t agree with all of Russ’s ideas but by half way through I’m thinking, ‘Great, Fantastic, we’re going to start a socially and ecologically sound collective. Where do I sign? Where do I start? What’s step one?’ Problem is, Russell Brand’s book never tells me.

The man himself would know doubt say that, if he sets himself up as a leader to follow then it is against the principle of a collective, but as he never gives us any ideas of where the ordinary person in the street should begin then I’m left feeling demoralised. Feeling that I am being done over by all these rich people and am powerless to stop it.

Another chapter or two giving some grass roots ideas and organisations to get the ball rolling would have been really useful. A few tips on how to stop paying your taxes and avoid jail would also have been helpful.  Revolutions need talk, personally I think they probably also need leaders but what they need most of all is action.

Whitstable Literary Festival

PrintWhitstable Literary Festival

Sunday 14th May 11am-12.00pm

Whitstable Castle, Tower Hill, Whitstable CT5 2BW

This literary festival by the sea features both well known and lesser known local writers and aims to celebrate Kent’s cultural heritage.

I will be talking about my new book, On the Marshes and will be in conversation with Ros Coward, Guardian journalist and former director of Greenpeace.

A Good Read – Helen Macdonald, H is for Hawk.

A Good Read – Helen Macdonald, H is for Hawk.

final-H-is-for-hawk-cover

We’ve all done it. Dismissed a book based on the hype without ever opening the front cover. I was all poised to read this and be a bit sneery but, within the first few pages I changed my mind.

There was something real and honest in Helen Macdonald I hadn’t expected to find. Despite the reviews I don’t think this book is a work of dark genius. It’s not The Peregrine. I did not find it a hard, difficult, painful read but a simple account of grief and the desire to withdraw from the world.

Maybe it says something about me that I found so much in this book I could relate to. That the author’s desire to hide out with a hawk, lose herself in the wild, bury herself in non human instincts was something I could sympathise with.

I like the unapologetic way she deals with many of the issues this book covers. She doesn’t get bogged down in the ethics of killing animals it is just something she does. She takes responsibility for ending an animal’s life and she eats what she kills. Maybe at times you do feel uneasy about her lack of comment on the contrast between her own sustainable hunting and the pheasant shoots whose rearing pens her hawk plunders but ultimately the ethics of hunting is not what this book sets out to explore.

I also appreciated the lack of melodrama when talking about her grief and depression and her realisation that she can’t continue to hide out in the wilderness but needs people in her life.

If you are one of the people who have become sick of hearing about this book and actively avoided it then think again. Ignore the hype and enjoy the book for what it is. A simple and well written book from a women, who you sense, never sought the limelight.

A Good Read – John Betjeman’s Collected Poems

thJohn Betjeman’s Collected Poems

I have fallen in love with John Betjeman. It is my usual crush, an unobtainable man (in this case long dead!) with whom I feel a kinship.

In his collected poems, first published in 1958, Betjeman is nostalgic for a vanishing Britain and so am I. I am told that nostalgia is wrong, that we must all embrace sustainable progress into a modern Britain I want no part of.

Instead I am drawn to Betjeman’s world of tennis played on the lawns of country houses and hills lined with elm trees. A less peopled country of winding roads with fewer cars and more detail.

I seek Betjeman’s world on long cycles through wintry lanes, in quiet woods and parish churches. I close my eyes to much of modern Britain and instead seek a country that offers food for the soul, that enriches not erodes.

But in Betjeman I do not find a poet of the past, despite being dead for over twenty years, many of his collected poems come across as surprisingly relevant. He depicts a countryside trashed by pylons and ugly developments and ugly values. A world of nature and depth consumed by plastic and triviality. Betjeman’s poems seem more than relevant in an era where all the little weedy paradises where children once played and learned to love nature are consumed by a tide of cheaply thrown up housing estates which will lock children into their box rooms to stare at computer screens and learn to shop.

Betjeman’s poems have an air of sadness, of knowing the fight against the destruction of all you love in your country is fruitless, it will be destroyed by politicians and planners and developers. As our wild places are gobbled up by housing at an alarming rate then Betjeman is a reminder of what beauty we threw away.

A Good Read – Silt Road, The Story of a Lost River – Charles Rangeley-Wilson

untitled (5)I read this book in superfast time, drawn on by its underlying melancholy. A sadness of the author both for the buried and brutalised river whose history he charts and a personal sadness, hinted at but, with admirable constraint, never quite revealed.

As someone who has worked on many river restoration projects and known the teeth grinding frustration of coming up against official inertia, short sightedness and profit margins, as if these were something I personally was supposed to care about, then I fully understood Rangeley-Wilson’s anger at the tiny, self interested decisions made by councillors with hands in developers pockets. Decisions which then go on to suck the life out of a town and its inhabitants for a long time to come.

The story of the River Wye in High Wycombe, that this book uncovers, could be the story of so many of our rivers. Essential to the towns that grew up around them, bound up in our history, once beautiful and then lost under concrete. It could well have been the story of my own local river, The Beam which flows into Romford in Essex. Once an essential part of the towns brewery industry, it too now is buried under concrete with plans for its resurrection shelved in favour of a car park and shopping centre. It is a sign of the times, where we once worshipped river Gods, now our Gods are shopping and cars.

Silt Road is not an uplifting read but the universality of its subject allows us all to recognise, think about and understand the rivers which flow in and around our towns better. Towards the end of this book you begin to will the author on, hoping for a happy ending, wanting Charles Rangeley-Wilson to save his river, unearth it from its tomb and give it back to the town but it is not to be.

The book does end, however, with a little glimmer of hope. As the author sits in a café and watches the people of the town drawn to the one water feature they have left. Reaching out in order to touch and connect with this element and, in doing so, maybe connect with an inner part of themselves which, like the river, is buried deep underground.

 

A Good Read – Meadowland – John Lewis-Stempel

613pL0kjIPL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Meadowland – The Private Life of an English Field – John Lewis-Stempel

Meadowland follows the yearly cycle of a field in a corner of John Lewis-Stempel’s farm in Herefordshire. This, on the surface of things, would not seem a wide enough subject about which to write a whole book but from the first line we are transported down into the meadow with the author to watch the ice moon rising, feel the frost biting at our finger tips and watch the badger dragging his lame back legs across the field. The prose in Meadowland takes you down amongst the grasses and allows you to witness the lives of a host of creatures that live around this quiet corner of the English countryside.

Time and again in this book you wish to applaud John Lewis-Stempel’s patience and field skills. The hours he spends simply sitting and observing and recording those intimate moments of nature which can only be witnessed by long hours in the field. It is the detail that sings off the page here; a fox catching craneflies along with a flycatcher, a shrew rolling a slug into an appetiser, voles running from the brushcutter blade.

There are some subjects touched which are likely to rouse the blood of many wildlife  lovers and at times the authors shows a slightly schizophrenic attitude towards his hay meadow. He finds the foxes beautiful but would happily shoot them. He gently covers up a nest of field voles which he exposes during his hay cutting but downs a pigeon just as it performs a last swoop towards the safety of cover. He delights in seeing the badgers but is relieved that his borderline TB cattle are free to go out and wander amongst them. Still, John Lewis-Stempel is at least not hiding his views on such issues. He holds his hands up to being somewhat confused about where his loyalties lie. He admits that he has both hunted foxes from horse back and been a hunt saboteur.

This is nature writing which will stand the test of time. A book dip into to enjoy the turning of the year. It is a beautiful observation of wildlife in an unspoilt corner of the country and made me want to go out and spend more time simply sitting and watching and enjoying the everyday delights to be found on our doorsteps.

Book Review – The Old Ways, Robert Macfarlane

Book Review – The Old Ways, Robert Macfarlane

The Old Ways

The Old Ways – Robert Macfarlane

The jury is still out on Mr Macfarlane. Despite being lauded as one of the best nature writers of his generation, then I find it hard to fall in love with his style of writing.

I feel I should rate him, after, all Roger Deakin thought so highly of him he made him his literary executor and I applaud the way in which he has raised the profile of my much maligned home county of Essex, praising the desolate beauty of its coastline and the iconic Englishness of it’s seaside resorts, but, unlike Roger Deakin, Macfarlane’s writing just seems to lack the human touch or possibly a sense of humour, it is all so very, very clever and earnest.

Walking the Old Ways with him, while reading his book, felt, at times, a hard slog. Wading through a treacle of endless metaphor’s, scrabbling through geological terms. The fact that the book needs a 9 page glossary to help you understand it, says it all. It seems that, at times, Robert Macfarlane looses his way. Is he an academic or a literary writer? and , if he is a such a great writer, why does it feel as if he is trying so very hard to impress us with his knowledge? At times it just seems as if he is trying too hard, when he loosens up towards the end of the book he gets so much better.

I loved his stories of seeing a panther on the road at night after a long days walking in the snow or his experiences of ghostly presences at Chanctonbury Ring. He retold these events with admirably little fanfare and a dryness of style which made them believable and left you wanting more. Where this book really seemed to excel was when Macfarlane forgot himself and told the stories of others, particularly his account of the war experiences of Edward Thomas, then I became lost in the story and the writing, no longer fighting through cleverness but immersed in the landscape and the life of another.

The Old Ways has been praised to the hilt by many and was a surprise top ten bestseller. If you are at all interested in nature writing then it is a book to read just make sure you are prepared for some heavy walking.