The Three Dimensions of Freedom by Billy Bragg

4 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

There are a lot of things wrong with our political process at the moment, pedlars of lies and half-truths seem to have the upper hand, algorithms threaten our democracy as they target people of a particular political persuasion. Social media doesn’t always help either, it has become an echo chamber as people hear only what they want to hear and reinforce their prejudices. Money is pouring into these organisations and they are growing in influence. It feels like we are living a political version of groundhog day and 1984 as the tyranny grows.

In this short concise book on the three elements that make up a modern democracy, liberty, equality and accountability. After the wars in the 20th century, society grew well under the Keynesian economic policies but the Thatcher / Regan assault of the state has led us to where we are today. He explores the way that the neoliberal movement and overly powerful corporations have hollowed out our democracy and governments and how the systems is geared to deliver power and wealth for an exclusive and select band of people and misery for the rest.

What can we do though? He argues that accountability is the key. Past concentrations of power do (eventually) lead to change, as the population realises what is happening and that they have to effect change. People and organisations need to be held to account, and to do this we need a strong rule of law where no one is above it.

Bragg really nails exactly what is wrong with our country at the moment, and while he provides some of the answers to what to do, he doesn’t have all of the answers. Whilst that is a shame, but then I don’t think anyone has those answers at the moment. We do need a strong constitution though and we are lacking that at the moment. Worth reading, if a little short.

Ring the Hill by Tom Cox

Welcome to Halfman, Halfbook for my stop on the Blog Tour for Ring the Hill by Tom Cox and published by Unbound.

About the Book

A hill is not a mountain. You climb it for you, then you put it quietly inside you, in a cupboard marked ‘Quite A Lot Of Hills’ where it makes its infinitesimal mark on who you are.

Ring the Hill is a book written around, and about, hills: it includes a northern hill, a hill that never ends and the smallest hill in England. Each chapter takes a type of hill – whether it’s a knoll, cap, cliff, tor or even a mere bump – as a starting point for one of Tom’s characteristically unpredictable and wide-ranging explorations.

Tom’s lyrical, candid prose roams from an intimate relationship with a particular cove on the south coast, to meditations on his great-grandmother and a lesson on what goes into the mapping of hills themselves. Because a good walk in the hills is never just about the hills: you never know where it might lead.

About the Author

Tom Cox lives in Norfolk. He is the author of the Sunday Times bestselling The Good, The Bad and The Furry and the William Hill Sports Book longlisted Bring Me the Head of Sergio Garcia. 21st-Century Yokel was longlisted for the Wainwright Prize, and the titular story of Help the Witch won a Shirley Jackson Award. You can find him on Twitter @cox_tom

My Review

There are countless books written about mountains, just take a look around the travel section of a bookshop. However, there are not so many written about hills, in particular, the small inconsequential hills that abound the landscape in our country. A hill might not have the majesty or presence of a mountain, but for Cox, these are more accessible, and still have as much mystery and lore and their larger cousins.

Beginning in Somerset under the ever-watchful eye of the Tor and the inland sea that is the Somerset levels he wanders from Britain’s smallest hill, in Norfolk no less, to the highest point on the South Coast. Yet another house move takes him to a house most of the way up a hill in Derbyshire; he is snowed in and it is a place that alarms his cats, and he is often woken at 3.44 in the morning from a nightmare and he would often hear things being moved in the loft… Not many things scare him, sitting with his feet over the edge of Golden Cap is no problem, but halfway up some mechanical edifice is enough to freak Cox out.

He wades through some family history when he discovers that his great grandmother who lived on Dartmoor, prior to moving to Nottingham. He finds that Dartmoor is at its most eerie in the summer when the heat makes time move like treacle. He spends time walking across Dorset’s hills spotting his third hare since moving to the West Country and amusing himself over alternative meanings for the village names in the area. Just seeing a hill on a car journey and then finding on an OS map late is a thrill, especially if there is access to walk up it later.

As I drive the roads, I watch the hills. I always notice the interesting ones, and none of them aren’t interesting, so I notice them all.

Ring the Hill is not quite a sequel to 21st Century Yokel, more of a slightly lairy companion. He seems to be one of the fastest funded authors on the publisher Unbound as he doesn’t really fit in any of the niches that a regular publisher has. Preferring to write widely about whatever the hell takes his fancy, from folklore to the music that works best when he is walking in a place. It is this wide-ranging fascination with all that he sees is what makes this book such a delight. Hares permeate the book too, not just the scant physical ones that he sees out and about, but the way that they are interwoven into the natural and spiritual worlds. I thought that this was a wonderful book, full of tangents and glimpses of things that fascinate him. I love the traditional linocut illustrations of hares that have been created by his mother and I was glad to see that his very LOUD DAD was back in the book again.

 

Don’t forget to visit the other blogs on the blog tour

Buy this at your local independent bookshop. If you’re not sure where your nearest is then you can find one here

My thanks to Anne Cater from Random Things Through My Letterbox and Unbound for the copy of the book to read.

The Bumblebee Flies Anyway by Kate Bradbury

3 out of 5 stars

Moving to a new home in Brighton was a little bit daunting for Kate Bradbury, but it was the right time in her life to do it. The only problem was that space outside her back door was a barren and lifeless decked yard. The decking wasn’t in that great a condition either, so one day she decided that the whole lot had to come out and ventured out with her screwdriver.

Removing it took a little while and it revealed the stuff that had been left underneath that needed clearing, but in the end, it is gone and she has a blank canvas to create her own garden. As she wrestles the man-made elements away, her neighbours are in the process of covering their gardens with hard landscaping. Enriching the long covered soil means that she is finally able to put plants in that are going to attract insects and other wildlife. Bird boxes and feeders and bee hotels start to have the desired effect, turning a lifeless place into one that gives her pleasure every day.

This book proves what you can do if you don’t cover your outdoor spaces with decking or paving and think of your garden in wildlife terms and have the vision to change things for the better. Can you imagine what would happen if everyone did this? Wouldn’t solve all the problems that we have, but would go a little way to redressing the balance. Overall I thought it was an enjoyable book, Bradbury is a reasonable writer but what comes across in this is her enthusiasm for her six-legged friends who find her garden an oasis in the modern concrete jungle.

Cheltenham Literature Festival

It is the 70th Anniversary for The Times and The Sunday Times Cheltenham Literature Festival this year. It runs from 4 – 13 October 2019 . The Festival will bring more than 900 of the best writers, thinkers and performers of our time to the vibrant Regency town, setting the scene for once-in-a-lifetime conversations to take place over ten extraordinary days of unique experiences, critical debate and literary revelry.

For those of you that are regular readers and followers of the blog (thank you), you’ll know that I am a big fan of reading the tales of those that head out to explore our amazing planet. Some of the writers that are appearing are below:

Adam Weymouth
Monisha Rajesh and here
Alastair Humphreys and here
Levison Wood and here, here, here and here
Luke Turner
Emma Mitchell
Erling Kagge and here
Mark Boyle
Ben Fogle
Philip Marsden
Dan Richards

Click on the names to see my reviews on their books. One of the authors appearing is Raynor Winn. Her book, The Salt Path is a wonderful story of her walk around the South West Coast Path after they had been made homeless. My review is below:

The bad news came fast, Raynor Winn’s husband had just been diagnosed with a terminal illness, they had just lost a court case even though they had the evidence that they were not liable for debts and now the bailiffs were hammering on the door to take their farm and livelihood away. Their only income would be £48 per week. It is at times like these that some people would have a breakdown or consider a more permanent end to the problems, they didn’t; inspired by the book 500 Mile Walkies by Mark Wallington they decided that as they were homeless anyway they may as well walk the south coast path.

With the precious little money they have, they buy a new lightweight tent, a couple of sleeping bags and new rucksacks and drive the van to Minehead in Somerset as that is where all the guidebooks begin. Moth’s condition of corticobasal degeneration or CBD, meant that the doctor had advised him to take it easy and not to overdo it; probably not attempt a 630-mile walk around the spectacular coastline of the south-west. The first part of the footpath is probably the toughest section with the high cliffs and steep paths and it is a struggle for both, but Moth in particular. They have no money for official campsites, so wild camping was the way to go, ensuring that they found a place out of sight, and were packed up before they could be discovered in the morning.

They met all sorts of people of the walk, but telling those that they met that they were homeless would a lot of the time cause a lot of prejudice and they would be shunned, called tramps or worse. Sitting eating a shared pack of budget noodles when other are stuffing pasties and ice creams in, is quite soul destroying. However, there were others who would be prepared to help, providing hot drinks, paying for food, and even a millionaire wine importer who wined and dined them for an evening. One man they met on a cliff path told them about salted blackberries, picked right at the very end of the season just before they turned when the flavour was most intense and dusted with the salt from the sea they gorged on them whenever they could find them. They had completed a fair chunk of the route, before stopping and staying with a friend, earning a little money and starting to plan a future once again. Rather than head back to where they had stopped, they came to Poole and started from the other end walking through the Jurassic Coast back to the place that they had stopped a few months previously.

This is a heartwarming and inspiring story of a couples fight back against a life-changing legal decision that left them totally penniless. Winn writes with an honesty that is quite moving, she is open with her feelings and her thoughts about the people she meets on their walk and the events that led to them walking. There are some moments in here that may make you cry as well as some amusing anecdotes that will have you chuckling. What does come across throughout the book is the inner strength of Raynor and Moth, to overcome a financial situation that most could not recover from, the way that Moth manages to use the walk to improve his health and that being in the right place at the right time can offer an opportunity that can be life-changing. If there is one thing that can be taken from this, it is that there is nothing that human optimism can’t overcome.

You can find who is talking in the full programme here

Follow them on Twitter here: @CheltLitFest

See who is talking about it by searching for the hashtag: #cheltlitfest

The Science of Fate by Hannah Critchlow

3 out of 5 stars

There are those that believe that star signs determine our fate, that very moment that you were born your destiny was set by the heavenly bodies. Others think that we are completely free to determine and set our path in the world. It looks like both of these are wrong, as according to the science free will doesn’t exist.

Our neuroscience probes deeper into our grey matter, it is revealing the processes that we use to make our decisions, how we form the reality that we see around us and just how much effect that the subconscious mind has over our day to day life. The DNA that we have inherited from our parents plays a key role too, certain character traits, such as phobias, addiction and depression are hardwired into us before we emerge from the womb. The unconscious mind has all sorts of tricks up its sleeve. Certain processes become automatic after a while, it plays as much of a part in selecting our partner as much as visual cues and personality do.

Critchlow has lots of example of human behaviour and why some things are easy for us to keep doing and why other changes need much more effort to have an effect. She has some good ideas in here and I thought that it was written well, but it didn’t quite have that extra something that would lift it to great.

September 2019 Review

Autumn has definitely got a grip on the season now and I find that the way the light pivots on the equinox is one of our magical times of the year. A few stats on my reading as we have reached nine months now. I have read 158 books so far, 73 review copies, 71 from the library and 15 of my own. 106 of these books have been written by men and 53 by women, this works out at 33% and I am a couple of per cent down on my target of 35%. My top five categories are travel, natural history, fiction, poetry and science and my top five publishers are Eland, Unbound, Jonathan Cape, Faber and Faber and Bloomsbury. Let me know if you want to know what the other publishers and categories are.

It was a good month for reading too, I managed to get through another 17 books from the TBR and here there are:

Magnificent Women and Their Revolutionary Machines was about the crucial role that women played in engineering from World War 1 onwards. A really fascinating read.

 

I have loved all of Dave Goulson’s books so far and when I spotted The Garden Jungle in the library grabbed it. It is a well thought out and written book on how we can use our garden and green spaces to maximise the opportunities to help the much-beleaguered insect and wildlife in our country. In a similar vein is The Bumblebee Flies Anyway. This is the story of Kate Bradbury’s garden and how it went from a yeard full of decking to a green oasis buzzing with life

Michael Dobbs-Higginson is a fairly unique character and A Raindrop in the Ocean is his memoir about his life in business and travelling the world. Made for an interesting read.

   

I read six natural history books this month, and they are all very different and all worth reading. How to See Nature was written to help people reconnect with the natural world. One way of doing it is to go pond dipping and ponds are the focus of John Lewis-Stempel’s latest book. The Hen Harrier is a reprint of Donald Watson’s classic book and while it has dated a bit now, I thought it was good.

   

 

Woodlands are some of my favourite things, and the other three natural history books were about British woodlands. Epitaph for the Ash is about the ash dieback disease and the devastating effect it is having on our woodlands. Lisa Samson almost didn’t write this book as part of the way through she was diagnosed with a brain tumour. I also read two books by Oliver Rackham, both published by Little Toller. The Ash Tree is a celebration of the much-underrated tree and the woods it inhabits. The Ancient Woods of the Helford River is a detailed and fascinating survey of this creek on the Lizard peninsular in Cornwall.

Don McCullin is best known for his gritty reportage photography. The Landscape is photos taken recently and over his career of the places that he has been to over his life. Beautiful photographs.

My poetry book for the month was Us by Zaffar Kunial. Still thinking about this, but really liked some of the poems contained within. Want to read his next one, Six on cricket too.

 

I did get to read two of the Royal Society Prize books. John Gribbin’s Six Impossible Things is a short and baffling book on the quantum world. The Remarkable Life Of The Skin is an uncovering of our largest organ and it a really interesting read.

I have had White Mountain book from the library for ages so thought that I had better get round to it. I had it down for my #WorldFromMyArmchair Challenge for Nepal, but it is mostly about other peoples journey’s there rather than his own. Really like his style of writing though and have his book about his journey through Canada in a birchbark canoe.

 

Finally onto my book of the month, except this month there were two. The latest book from Kathleen Jamie, Surfacing, which is moving and brilliant and the second is A Claxton Diary by the immensely talented (and genuinely lovely) Mark Cocker. All I can say is read them both.

Interview With Horatio Clare

Paul Cheney: How close did you feel to Bach when following in his footsteps?

Horatio Clare: Intrigued at the outset, if somewhat distant. Absolutely right next to him at the end. He went from being a fleshy, slightly chopsy fellow in a painting to a young man, vigorous, hungry for action, drink, sex and music – the kind of writer, at a certain stage, any of us might recognise.

PC: You had companions on the walk, do you think walking alone would have given you a different perspective on Bach’s journey?

HC: Unquestionably. You might get a lot closer to his spirit (assuming it still walks the earth, sometimes!) but you would be much further from his work, from his time. One of my companions was Richard Andrews, one of those artist-crafts people you sometimes find in Broadcasting House, making the finest-sounding radio in the world, among other things. The other, our chief, was the producer Lindsay Kemp, who, given his expertise, personal passion for the subject and the period’s music, his huge erudition and scholarship and his engagement with the routes and towns of the walk, must be one of the world’s leading experts in this time and these places of Bach’s life. I doubt I would have made much of a fist of it without Lindsay’s help, prompting and ideas. I am not a musician: Richard is an astonishingly accomplished one; Lindsay one of that tiny corps, whom I had never met before – Radio 3 music producers. It was like walking with the SAS of music, history and technology. Sometimes I felt Bach’s presence alongside us, listening to the jokes and the speculation, and laughing when Lindsay got us lost.

PC: Do you think that the landscape has changed much in the years since Bach walked it and you followed?

HC: In its contours barely at all. The shapes of the Harz mountains must be the same, and the long horizons, and the low heaves and undulations of what are now great agribusiness fields were all there in J.S. Bach’s time, much more wooded. The wide forests and deep woodlands he saw we saw in fragments. We found maturing oak trees he almost certainly walked under. But his landscape, in the long aftermath of the 30 years war, had been depopulated by conflict and plague, the woods less managed and engaged with than they had been (than they needed to be, for the locals’ sake); it was a constellation of Duchies and outposts both splintered and twinkling, the late afternoon of the Holy Roman Empire. This was 1705. A century later comes Napoleon and everything is changed. And of course we have done away with a lot of the hedges and whacked up a great many mighty wind turbines. The programme you really want to hear and read about is J.S. Bach’s walk in our footsteps in 2019! I think he would have been delighted, amazed and a little terrified.

PC: How different is the German countryside to the British countryside?

HC: In its small parts, the kind of ten square mile lens of land you can see and feel when you walk, very similar. There are surely parts of Lincolnshire, Gloucestershire, Rutland and even South Wales you could pull together to replicate Bach’s terrain. But the great beech woods, the sandy soils, the very high wide skies, the relative absence of aeroplanes and, on our route, large roads (or rather the ease with which you can escape roads and their noise) is quite different there. Germany is the America of Europe. Although Britain has a lot more birds species, Germany is much, much bigger. You can feel the space everywhere and see it: back gardens, rooms, the gaps between towns are all bigger. I do love Germany.

PC: Winter is obviously your toughest season, but what season do you look forward to the most?

HC: Oh great question! Thank you! Well, mum says however you feel about any of them you always find you are ready for the next season when it comes. I get that, though she is such an observer and so sewn into the rhythms of nature that she sees changes and onsets before anyone except her neighbours – all sheep farmers. I adore September and October. The Ethiopians, on the Julian calendar, have an extra month, Pagume, between August and September. The Little Summer of St Martin, where we are now (Nov 11), Indian summer, the festive period at the start of November (All Souls and the Days of the Dead) are all intoxicating times – such colours, such smells. The merry month of May is my other particular favourite. Shakespeare has a line about the uncertain glories of an April day – by May they are brightening into certainty, and I love them. But really, the truth is, just give me eternal summer…

PC: Do you have the same deep-rooted fear of this approaching winter that you had last time?

HC: No. I have a prickle of furtive apprehension, but I am not dwelling on it. Staying busy really helps.

PC: More importantly, do you have the treatments that will help you now?

HC: This sort of conversation is amazingly helpful. The book has put me in a position of quiet but public therapy – I am having many DM conversations and tweeted exchanges with people who are around the same place, or in much harder places than I am. It’s deeply moving and certainly very therapeutic. Helping each other humans can get through anything, as we know. But yes, I am taking vitamin B complex daily; I am consciously running hard for trains, carrying bags, knowing I need to keep exercise going. I am eating a lot more vegan and vegetarian food – I don’t know if it helps, but I like it, and oily fish and omega threes will be the next thing. And vitamin D is my secret weapon. Not deployed yet, but soon. Also a friend showed me a lamp that you can switch to a bright lightbox type lamp – not expensive at John Lewis, he said, so I am thinking about that…

PC: What advice would give to those facing similar demons as you this winter approaches?

HC: Everything I outline above is thought to help – statistically, it does work. Alongside that you may need counselling. The NHS can help but they need a long lead time. They would much rather you booked in now for Feb/March (when you might really need it) than turn up then, feeling suicidal, and be told the wait was six weeks.

PC: Can you suggest ways of using the natural world that others can try in beating Seasonal Affected Disorder?

HC: Get a good coat, good shoes, or whatever you use in winter, defo a soft scarf, and something for your head – hat, hood, bandana. Don’t put everything on at the start, necessarily. The Royal Marines, going for a yomp, say ‘start cold’ (you’re going to warm up) and however horrid it looks out there, get into it, every day, a mile or even half a mile (I am very lazy). Go slow enough that you don’t miss a bird or a squirrel. Spot things. Look at the clouds – how many different skies the British horizons can incorporate at once, when the weather is changeable. You will feel better – physically immediately, mentally soon, even if not for long. It works.

PC: As Matt Haig says, we need people who we are near to who are totally non-judgemental. Apart from Rebecca, do you have others that you can turn to at your most vulnerable times?

HC: I am 45. I have a dumb phone – smartphones are the enemy of happiness – and a laptop. In all of my decades I have made friends I can turn to, but when the walls come in there are certain people – on our street, in town (Hebden) in London, San Francisco, Edinburgh, Liverpool and online (one, Kartika Panwar, I have never actually met) who I can always, always talk to. I thank God for them.

PC: Do you have a location near where you live that you can go to in your darkest moments that brings peace?

HC: Anywhere on the moors is terrific, whatever the weather. The Packhorse (formerly The Ridge, opened in 1610) up by Widdop reservoir and Walshaw Moor is a banker. The road over Blackstone Edge is wonderful (my mum says the landscape there looks like a section of the border between Iran and Turkey! And she should know) and anywhere and everywhere in Wales, my heart’s home.

PC: How does that particular place help you?

HC: Well the obvious place is the Cwmdu valley, where I come from. It reminds me that I grew up in the most beautiful place in the world, that it will always be part of me, and if I have the luck to be buried there, then I will always be part of it. Unfortunately, I am a travel writer, so burial at sea, consumption by hippopotamus or scattered through a plane-wreck are all possibilities, but we live in hope.

PC: Has the process of writing this book helped in the healing process?

HC: Hugely. In more ways than I can say.

PC: How are you health wise now?

HC: For a smoker and a drinker, absolutely tip-top! Thank you for asking. I am running around a lot at the moment, which is terrific. I rarely if ever get depressed in Wales because I help with the farm. If you’re in action you’re less in your own head.

PC: You have written all sorts of different genres of books, but what genre do you prefer writing in?

HC: Travel is hard to beat, but I love dialogue and character, and jokes above all, so when a children’s book is going well that’s a hard feeling to beat.

PC: Is the editing process different with Little Toller and Elliot & Thompson?

HC: Not really.

PC: Did you write both books together, or were they written at different times?

HC: They are a series of two, Bach recording a week of last autumn and The Light in the Dark the months before and after. I wrote them more or less at the same time.

PC: Do you have a favourite place to write?

HC: No! I am sitting on the concourse at Manchester Piccadilly as I write this – a good bench and lots going on around me. It really doesn’t matter – though my absolute favourite is in the back of a Land Cruiser, stopped, ideally somewhere like Madagascar, waiting for a ferry or the tide to fall – and you’re writing in a good notebook with a friendly pen. That rocks.

PC: Do you have another book (or should I perhaps say books) in the pipeline?

HC: Three. A children’s book, Aubrey and the Terrible Spiders, third of a trilogy. A book of monologues by figures from the myth and history of Pembrokeshire castles, and a big bang of a travel book, which I am not going to tell you about!

PC: Which author(s) do you turn to for inspiration?

HC: A.A. Gill, Jan Morris. Zadie Smith. Auden. Macneice, Gunn, Coleridge, Shelley, Dylan and R S Thomas, Niall Griffiths, Rob the Macfarlane, Sarah Hall – god, she’s amazing – Joan Didion. I could go on… and on…

PC: If you were to recommend three books, what would they be?

HC: A.A. Gill is Away by A.A. Gill, Quite Early One Morning: Radio Scripts by Dylan Thomas and Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion.

PC: What book are you currently reading?

HC: Battleship Yamato: Of War, Beauty and Irony by Jan Morris.

This interview was first published on the NB Magazine website

October 2019 TBR

Thirty days hath September. And there they were gone! Did fairly well on the TBR from September, reading 14 from the list. I just keep getting library books that others have reserved bumped up the list. Didn’t get all of the books on that list read, so these have been carried over in the (vain) hope of reading them this month. For some reason, I am really behind on my reviews too. Aiming to get back on top of that this month. Anyway, these are the books I am intending on reading. Possibly over-ambitious but some of these are really short…

Blog Tours

Ring the Hil – Tom Cox

Effin’ Birds – Aaron Reynolds

 

Library

Lowborn – Kerry Hudson

The Making Of Poetry – Adam Nicolson

Who Owns England? – Guy Shrubsole

The Missing Lynx – Ross Barnet

Of Walking in Ice – Werner Herzog

Inglorious – Mark Avery

Nightingales In November – Mike Dilger

The Edge Of The World – Michael Pye

Clearing the Air – Tim Smedley

Infinite Powers – Steven Strogatz

Invisible Women – Caroline Criado Perez

 

Review Books

Spinning Silver – Naomi Novrik

Stealing With The Eyes – Will Buckingham

The Many Lives of Carbon – Dag Olav Hessen, Tr. Kerri Pierce

The House of Islam – Ed Husain

Chasing the Ghost – Peter Marren

Blue Mind – Wallace J. Nichols

When the Rivers Run Dry – Fred Pearce

Wintering – Stephen Rutt

So it Goes – Nicolas Bouvier

Stillicide – Cynan Jones

Salvation Lost – Peter F. Hamilton

The Glass Woman – Caroline Lea

The Three Dimensions of Freedom – Billy Bragg

Vickery’s Folk Flora – Roy Vickery

Sunfall by Jim Al-Khalili

Tempest: An Anthology Edited by Anna Vaught & Anna Johnson

The Saddest Pleasure: A Journey on Two Rivers by Moritz Thomsen

The Book of Puka-Puka: A Lone Trader in the South Pacific by Robert Dean Frisbie

Irreplaceable: The Fight To Save Our Wild Places by Julian Hoffman

 

#20BooksOfSummer

Two left to go on this, though as I type this, summer seems to have completely buggered off now.

Blue Mind: How Water Makes You Happier, More Connected and Better at What You Do by Wallace J. Nichols

When the Rivers Run Dry: Water – The Defining Crisis of the Twenty-first Century by Fred Pearce

 

Own Books / Wishful thinking

Three Poems – Hannah Robinson

As I Walked Out Through Spain in Search of Laurie Lee – P. D. Murphy

My Midsummer Morning: Rediscovering a Life of Adventure – Alastair Humphreys

On Beauty – Zadie Smith

Our Endless Numbered Days – Clare Fuller

Six Impossible Things by John Gribbin

3 out of 5 stars

If you want the strange then you need not venture between the covers of a science fiction book, there is a world that is equally unreal, where particles can be in two places at the same time, they are sometimes a wave and could be a particle, it all depends when you look. It exists in our world and universe, it is the quantum world, a place that has been baffling the brightest physics minds for a century or so.

At the moment there are six explanations of what could be happening in this surreal world. The names of them are as strange as the theories, there is the Copenhagen Interpretation, the Timeless Transactional Interpretation, The Not so Impossible Pilot Wave Interpretation, the Ensemble Non-Interpretation the Excess baggage Many Worlds Interpretation and my favourite titled one, the Incoherent Decoherence Interpretation.

This is a very strange and surreal world, even Einstein couldn’t really explain what was going on and called it spooky action at a distance. As soon as physicists think they have defined a set of rules that this crazy world conforms to, something is discovered that proves them wrong, but not fully wrong, just enough for a new set of theories to evolve, hence why we have these six concepts in this little book.

I can safely say that no one understands quantum mechanics – Richard Feynman

And can assure you that I am still one of them… In some ways, I feel enlightened by what I have read in here, in other ways I am still utterly baffled by some of the concepts that Gribbin explores. That said he writes about this incredibly complex subject and highlights the significant people who have been thinking about this for a long time. I liked the way that each of the interpretations is summed up in a single sentence with a wry humour.

The Ancient Woods of the Helford River by Oliver Rackham

4 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

When you think of the Cornish coast, images of sandy beaches being pounded with surf that has crossed the Atlantic spring to mind. Or secluded bays that have echoes of smugglers on the or dramatic cliffs still standing tall against the waves. Helford River on the east-facing coast of the Lizard peninsular is very different, strictly it is a tidal inlet, rather than a beach, but what lines it is ancient oak woodland, giving it an otherworldly feel.

The whole area was a much-loved spot for Oliver Rackham, and this book published after his death from his draft manuscript is his eulogy to the place. There are twenty-five woods in the area that have wonderful and evocative names, such as Merthen, Grambla, Tremayne and Bonallack. A lot of these are classified as ancient, but they all have a long history of human activity and use.

Each chapter concentrates on a particular element, for example, ecology, archaeology and a detailed look at each individual woodland with notes on the exact makeup with respect to the trees and vegetation growing there. He walked through all the woods seeking the coppice stools that reveal so much about the use and age of the wood, follows holloways from the fields down to the quays, finds the charcoal heaths that provided fuel for the tin industry and discovers the internal boundaries of the woods when they were under different ownership.

The book is full of images of the woodlands, from inside and along the shoreline where oaks that reach out from the shore and dip their boughs in the water. For the map addicts out there, it is packed with both recent and Victorian maps and details of places that have changed little since the Norman arrived. It is a fascinating book, full of two of my favourite things, sea and woodlands. The editorial team have done a great job of making the book from the draft manuscript by Rackham and is full of the detail that I’ve come to expect from him.

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