Showing posts from July, 2016

Poacher's pilgrimage

Not content with reading one book on walking and its effects (on heart as well as body), I followed reading Robert Macfarlane's 'The Old Ways' with Alastair McIntosh's 'Poacher's Pilgrimage: An Island Journey'.

They have a family resemblance not least because two of Macfarlane's journeys - one on land and one on sea - have as their context or departure point the Outer Hebrides and Alastair's journey is from the southernmost point of the Isle of Harris to the northernmost tip of the Isle of Lewis. In these journeys, they share overlapping cultural references, both past and present, and indeed the living participation of more than one actual person. Macfarlane, however, by way of difference, is an occasional visitor, Alastair is crossing the territory of his upbringing, where his elderly mother still lives, and every and any person chanced upon might reveal an acquaintance or connection.

They shar…

The Old Ways

Robert Macfarlane is one of the people who has helped both revive and reinvent nature writing in the new century. If John Muir in the nineteenth walked out into the 'pristine' wilderness (though not always as pristine as he thought or wrote, having a tendency to airbrush indigenous people out), Macfarlane is as concerned with the nature that has been brought into being by our interactions. This is, no doubt, partly in recognition that virtually nowhere in this anthropocene age can we find the 'pristine' and if we are to find a renewed love for and in nature, we will have to see with and through the markings of our own hands and feet. Thus, we may find ourselves as likely in a suburb as a forest or on a well trod, marked footpath as making our own tracks in 'untouched' space.

Feet are the principal focus of 'The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot' where Macfarlane goes on a series of journeys, mostly on foot, to explore pathways, often encountering people who,…

Pippa Passes

This is a 'late' novel by Rumer Godden featuring, as so often, a young person's awakening to adulthood in this case a young ballerina on her first tour abroad, a tour that brings an upcoming ballet company from middle England to Venice.

Pippa is highly talented but only seventeen and in the corps de ballet when she arrives. When she leaves, she will have debuted as a principal and be on the verge of her first solo part (to be danced in Milan). She will have lost her virginity, discovered and rejected a parallel career as a singer, been awoken to the complexities of love, been befriended by an elderly aristocratic couple and fallen in love with an 'impossible' man in which the only future will be in the 'eternity' of memory and with the city (and, subtly, too with the Madonna).

All in a swift, light, beautifully observed and psychologically acute 171 pages...

This is not, by any mark, her best novel (for which it probably needs some sharper shadows and touc…

Eye in the Sky

In the 'Brothers Karamazov', Dostoevsky has one character pose the question whether the universe is worth the suffering, the tears of a single child? Flying home from Washington yesterday, I watched 'Eye in the Sky' that had a related, if more utilitarian question, at its heart. Do you sacrifice or spare a child when the consequence of sparing may be a greater harm?

The film follows a British led security operation in Kenya that has traced known terrorists to a house in Nairobi (including both US and UK citizens) and where two of them are preparing to undertake a suicide bombing attack. Originally the intention was to seize them but this, given their location, is no longer seen as a feasible option, the alternative is a drone strike. Except just as they prepare to strike a young girl (whom we have been introduced to and certainly can be characterized as cute and charming) comes to sell bread right against the wall of the house to be destroyed.

Though at times, some of…

A man on a motorcycle

I was unusually happy that day which was surprising as I cannot describe my days at university as the most fulfilling time of my life, though I cannot recall why - perhaps real happiness does not require it. I was on my way to college, standing at a crossroads with traffic lights in central London, radiating my well being. Suddenly, as the lights changed, a motorcyclist, directly opposite, drove straight at me, onto the pavement, and only quick reaction on my part saved me from collision. As he passed, his foot shot out as if to hit me and he shouted something whose exact meaning, I could not make out but whose underlying sense I recall vividly.

So remarkably unusual was this event, and so shocking, that when I recall it, I momentarily think I must have dreamt it, a rare nightmare. But no it is anchored in memory and surfaced today, unsurprisingly, as I read of the terrible events in Nice.

The underlying sense of the motorcyclist's shout was that he could not bear a vision of hap…

The Silver Darlings

A boy grows to manhood sealed in ownership of his own fishing boat and prospective marriage. His mother rediscovers happiness as she nurtures him, becomes reconciled to a tragic past and finally marries again. And lots of fish, mostly herring, and fishing on an unpredictable sea.

From these apparently simple elements, Neil Gunn, wove his masterpiece that is, 'The Silver Darlings', published first in 1941. Set in the merging herring fisheries of the 1820s, it not only follows the trajectory of its principal characters over a twenty year period but demarcates the refashioning of a community around the sea.

Driven by the clearances from their inland glens, communities found themselves either emigrating or on marginal land forced to take up a new life. The novel starts with Tormand's first fishing expedition in his own, new boat that ends in tragedy when it is accosted by a press gang ship and its crew hijacked for imperial service on the high seas. Tormand resists and in th…

Holiday reading

Off to the west coast of Scotland - oysters, midges, rain and castles - and a suitcase with books.

I am reading, as I depart, Roger Lipsey's book on the relationship between Thomas Merton and his long standing Abbot, Dom James Fox, "Make Peace Before the Sun Goes Down". It was a fraught, fruitful, sometimes disabling relationship and Lipsey (whose biography of Dag Hammarskjold is outstanding) has decided to tell the story from both sides, not only, as is usual, through the lens of Merton.
Already in the first few pages it has upended my assumptions about Fox (through multiple Merton biographies and his journals) always thinking, as I did, of Fox as folksy (he would end his letters, 'All for Jesus through Mary with a smile') and not as Merton's intellectual peer. But Fox went, on a scholarship, to Harvard for a humanities degree, focused on history, graduated exceptionally well and subsequently went to the business school. I am expecting a fascinating account o…