Monday, 25 September 2017

Review: Autumn: An Anthology for the Changing Seasons

Autumn: An Anthology for the Changing Seasons Autumn: An Anthology for the Changing Seasons by Melissa Harrison
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As the world turns once again on the equinox, nights draw in, the sunshine from summer has been converted into nature’s bounty, mist rolls over fields and a new smell permeates the sharper mornings. Gone are the acid greens of spring and deeper shades of summer, now we have leaves turning rich reds, bold yellows and mellow browns. The swallows who arrived early summer, zoom across the fields one final time before leaving for Africa. Autumn has arrived.

Just seconds ago I was in a concrete jungle, but now I stand surrounded by damp earth, wood and October’s sepia tones – Will Harper-Penrose

So begins the final book in this series of seasons that I have read. Melissa Harrison has again gathered together a fine collection of classic prose and poetry as well as the current stalwarts of our rich seam of nature writing in the UK. Most importantly is bringing to our attention the newest authors and writers who seek their inspiration from their own patch of the natural world. To be honest, they are all good, but there are a few that are outstanding, in particular, Jane Adams, Will Harper-Penrose and Megan Shersby. I am hoping that the chance that all these authors have had to appear in print will pay off in abundance in years to come. If you want a book to read that has those evocative smells and the whiff of bonfire then this is absolutely perfect. Great little book, another beautiful cover and a cracking series.

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Sunday, 24 September 2017

Terry Pratchett Exhibition

I have been a long time fan of the strange Discworld that came from the mind of Terry Pratchett. A place that was familiar at the same time. I was genuinely upset when he succumbed to the terrible disease of Alzheimer's back in March 2015. It was a tragic loss for his fans and those that he had touched in his life.

Last week Salisbury Museum opened an exhibition to celebrate and commemorate his life and achievements.  And what achievements they were; Knight of the Realm, Professor, collector of doctorates, OBE, blackboard monitor and honorary brownie. He used his position to raise necessary awareness of the tragic illness that is Alzheimer's appearing on various TV programmes and talking to people about it and asking the important question about dignity in life and death. He said that this illness made him so angry, an anger that he said could have welded steel he still maintained his humour.

Even though I never met him, and regret not taking the opportunity to do so when he was with us, I miss him and getting the latest paperback each Christmas.

I am fortunate that I have two signed books by him, both have been found in second-hand bookshops

The exhibition was full of personal mementoes, the sword he made, the letter from Tolkien, the first typewriter he had and a remake of his office as well as art by the fabulous Paul Kidby. I didn't take any photos, as I wanted to have the memories, but I did take one of this. I might have shed a tear at that point.

If you loved STP's work, then this you must visit this exhibition, it is sensitively done and a fitting tribute to an author has brought much pleasure to millions of readers. I thought it would be rude to leave without buying anything, so got these.

Review: Around the Coast in Eighty Waves

Around the Coast in Eighty Waves Around the Coast in Eighty Waves by Jonathan Bennett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When you think of surfing, the beaches of Hawaii and Bondi Beach in Australia spring to mind, and that Beach Boys song will drift into your mind and stick. The UK has a surf culture too, that unbelievable has been around for over 50 years now and it has around half a million regular surfers and a large number who try it for the first time every year. Modern surfing was brought to Cornwall by four Australian lifeguards who amazed people with the way they could swoop across the waves. Its spiritual home has remained in the West Country, the place that receives a large proportion of the waves and swells from the North Atlantic. Jonathan Bennett set himself a challenge of catching a wave on eighty separate beaches all around the UK that were suitable for surfing.

But first, he needed a camper van.

Having found one in Hastings, he sets off on his fourteen-month journey around the UK. In what turns out to be the coldest winter for a while, he wishes he had bought one with a heater… Starting in Scotland, he kind of heads clockwise around the country, stopping at promising looking beaches hoping to catch that perfect wave. Living on porridge and endless cups of tea he manages to avoid going anywhere near a regular campsite, sleeping where he can hear the waves crash onto the beach. He will surf alone on one of the most remote beaches in the UK, share the water with seals, great and not so great bodyboarders and the odd unmentionable object.

This is an enjoyable account of Bennetts attempt to surf his way around the UK. The writing is straightforward with good descriptions of the people and places he meets on his surf journey. There is the odd amusing moment and the book is full of surf jargon, thankfully there is a glossary in the back of the book. Sadly what the book is missing is photos, whilst I have been to some of the beaches mentioned, I would have loved to have seen photos of the beaches surfed in the Highlands and Islands. If you have read any of Tom Anderson’s books then you will like this one. 3.5 stars

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Friday, 22 September 2017

Review: Island Years, Island Farm

Island Years, Island Farm Island Years, Island Farm by Frank Fraser Darling
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fraser Darling was born in Chesterfield in northern England, the illegitimate son of Harriet Darling and Frank Moss. At the ages of 15 he ended up working on a farm and that led him to study agriculture. That led to a PhD at Edinburgh University and in time he was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. At the end of the 1930’s when he was married with a young child he began his work on the Summer Isles studying gulls and grey seals as well as reclaiming land that could be used agricultural production on Tanera Mòr.

Slowly he fell in love with these bleak but beautiful islands. They are places of two seasons; a short but intense summer before a rapid switch to the winter sometime in October. They lived in a tent some on some of the islands, hunkering down as the storms swept in off the Atlantic even in the summer months. His careful observations of the wildlife and the work he carried out making a living on the islands enabled him to write a book on crofting and these two books, Island Years and Island Farm. It is a simple but tough life living as a crofter on the islands, some of the gales that he describes sound horrendous, even getting to the islands was not easy with strong swells and very few places to land. It was something that Fraser Darling relished though, he even made the commitment to buy land and settle and spent time restoring a quay and property to make life a little more comfortable.

His prose is not flowery, just solid and rational, but he still manages to fill your senses with the smell of the sea and sound of the waves. It was a uncompromising life there and whilst it wasn’t hand to mouth existence it was much made tougher when he broke his leg. This simpler time just prior to World War II, is brought vividly to life, a nature classic that made for enjoyable reading.

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Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Review: A Charm of Goldfinches and Other Wild Gatherings: Quirky Collective Nouns of the Animal Kingdom

A Charm of Goldfinches and Other Wild Gatherings: Quirky Collective Nouns of the Animal Kingdom A Charm of Goldfinches and Other Wild Gatherings: Quirky Collective Nouns of the Animal Kingdom by Matt Sewell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Humans have always had a natural desire to collect and group things together. It works well for domesticated animals, where people are used to talking about a herd of cows, or a flock of sheep. But how do you collate wild animals and birds? Should they all be flocks and herds? Thankfully human imagination has gone to work on this and come up with a whole host of rich and interesting names for all species of animals.

Matt Sewell has collected together all the collective nouns for all manner of animals who inhabit land, sea and air. As well as the titled, A Charm of Goldfinches and the well-known Murder of Crows he introduces to us the less common quarrel of sparrows, a quiver of cobras, a harem of seals and deceit of lapwings. Alongside each collective noun is a delightful watercolour of the animals and a little explanation of the origins of the noun.

I really liked this enchanting little book with its colourful bold artwork and Sewell’s charming prose but if there was one minor flaw was it too brief.

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Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Review: From Source to Sea

From Source to Sea From Source to Sea by Tom Chesshyre
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Tom Chesshyre happened upon a map of the River Thames in a Bric-a-brac market on his way to the library. It was a reproduction of a map by William Tombleson showing the twists and turns from the source near Cirencester to the mouth on the Kent and Essex coasts. He could not resist buying it, and having done so, an idea formed of walking along the river from the source to the North Sea. The Thames is one of the few rivers including the Nile and the Amazon, with a global presence. Whilst the other rivers are thousands of miles long, the humble Thames is only 215 miles long, making Tom’s walk a gentle stroll compared to the adventurers Ed Stafford and Levison Wood who have walked the other two rivers.

Our most well know river has drawn all types of people through the ages, from artists and authors to those that have used the river to make their living from. It doesn’t have the exotic and dangerous elements that the Nile and the Amazon can boast, it does reflect the rich and diverse history of our country stretching back several thousand years. Passing historical churches, vast country estates and idyllic meadows before walking into the famous skyline that is London. Along the way, Chesshyre meets the great and the good and other people walking the same route as him and the characters that make the river such a dynamic place to live and work. Oh, and there are pubs too, lots of pubs

Travel books should inspire you to move from the comfort of your sofa and go and seek the places yourself. In this delightful book, Chesshyre does that. He engages with the spirit of the river and the places that he walks through, whilst pondering the implications of the recent referendum result. This is a walk that I would like to undertake myself one day as it seems to be a wonderful way to see an iconic part of our country.

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Royal Society Shortlist

The Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize 2017 continues that fine tradition of finding the best science books out there and introducing us to new authors and the latest books that could pique your interest. The books on the short list are quite wide ranging and all very different. I Contain Multitudes is about the microbes that live within and around us, it is not for the fainthearted at times. If millions of microbes don’t appeal, then how about reading Beyond Infinity, where Cheng takes us to another level with numbers. There are two books on the mind; Other Minds takes us on a journey to understand the inner workings of the cephalopods and In Pursuit of Memory looks at the latest research into Alzheimer’s. The two final one concern our sense of self and our bodies. Cordelia Fine takes on the myths surrounding gender in Testosterone Rex and To Be a Machine is Mark O’Connell’s exploration with those wishing to push the limits of technology and the body.

I do not envy the choice of the judges, but if I had to pick one I’d go for In Pursuit of Memory, a personal and poignant account of the latest on the tragic disease that is Alzheimer’s.