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Wild Woman Swimming by Lynne Roper

4.5 out of 5 stars

It was Lynne Roper’s health that became the driving force behind her getting into the water. In 2011 after having had a double mastectomy she joined The Outdoor Swimming Society and really never looked back. Even though she was a late starter to the delights of wild swimming, she never really looked back and was soon an essential member of the society. She inspired many others to join and to learn just how to understand the complexities of river flows and currents off the coast of Devon. This journal is a record of the swims that she had with friends from the group and her dog, Honey. She was an all year swimmer, taking to the water in tors, ponds, rivers and reservoirs and even the odd quarry. Equally happy in bitterly cold waters in the winter as she was luxuriating in the silky smooth waters in rivers in the summer.

I grin through the constant rumble and hiss of crashing waves and foam, imbued with stormy energy.

Sadly this wonderful diary of a lady who wanted to spend as much time as possible in rivers and the sea was to be cut short by a brain tumour and she passed away in 2016. Roper was a paramedic and she never really thought of her self as a writer, but this book proves otherwise. She has a beautiful way of writing, razor-sharp perception coupled with wry humour. You feel the shock of the cold water too as she slips into the water and see the light as it reflects and flickers off the surface. We are only reading this book as her friend Tanya Shadrick collected her writings and took them to publishers. No one was interested, so she set up the Selkie Press and published it herself. I am so glad she did, as this is a beautiful book to read.

How to Catch a Mole by Marc Hamer

4 out of 5 stars

Choosing a career as a mole-catcher is unusual, to say the least. But then Marc Hamer has never followed any convention, rather he has forged his own path in his life. He has been homeless after his father decided he was surplus to requirements at the age of 16, worked on the trains and slept in hedges and on the beach, weeded gardens and finally ended up in this, a mole-catcher, his last career. Knowing where moles are is fairly easy, look for the conical piles of soil that appear scattered over finely tended lawns and driving the owners of the properties half-mad.

Finding these elusive creatures is much harder and takes years of experience and knowledge to locate the tunnels and set the traps. It was this knowledge that meant that mole-catchers could expect a secure and well-paid job. This solitary working life suited Hamer, spending time outside in the glorious Welsh hills sensing the seasons change imperceptibly on a daily basis and loving his life. After a lifetime of experience chasing and destroying these rarely seen animals, he made the decision to never do it again and hung up his traps.

Reading about the destruction of these poor creatures is not easy, however, Hamer somehow writes about it with a tenderness that doesn’t lessen the cruelty, but shows his small part in the cycle of life and death in nature. It is a part that he turned his back on, deciding after one incident to not continue the trapping of moles. I really like Hamer’s sparse writing too, he is not pretentious or flowery, rather he tells it how it is, celebrating the tiny details that others often miss, enjoying the wind and rain as well as retreating home for shelter, companionship and a tumbler of whisky for warmth. It feels like he is an integral part of the landscape and like all living things on this planet, just a transient blip in the geological deep time. I preferred the prose to the poetry, and all the way through it is beautifully illustrated by Joe McLaren.

Underland by Robert Macfarlane

5 out of 5 stars

Mankind has long looked to the heavens seeking fortune, inspiration and direction. Numerous cultures have all considered the underworld to be a place where a river carried the dead away from the surface, where death abounded, hell, hades and other places were thought to exist. It was somewhere to be avoided. Yet, people have worked underground for thousands of years, tracing and extracting the minerals and ores in the ground, However, it is not something that most people do on a regular basis in the UK now our mining industry is gone. We do head beneath the surface though as millions of people think nothing about going on the tube under London and other capital cities to get to work. However, very few get to go to where Macfarlane is heading.

His journeys into the nether regions of our planet will take him to the catacombs of Paris where his guide knows the numerous passages so well that she doesn’t need a map. Squeezing through tiny gaps, pulling his bag behind him, he will not see the sun for a week. He will venture deep underground in Finland visiting a nuclear waste site. Here they are burying copper and steel tube holding waste uranium, that will have to be buried for thousands of years and sealed behind a million tonnes of rock. The engineer’s joke that they might find the last lot that was buried in the rock they were blasting.

People have been entering caves since time immemorial, some caves are easy to enter, though not straightforward to reach and they reveal art that is millennia old. The caves he visits to see this amazing art are not always the easiest to find, and it is not always the easiest thing to see on the walls as he discovers. Each cave he enters challenges his perception of the underground landscape, having to descend vertically in almost pitch back, wading through underground rivers that might flood with no warning. He sees first hand how the same forces that shape our coasts and mountains, also transform the Underland. Most memorable is an underground chamber where there are dunes of black sands.

In Greenland, he climbs mountains and abseils down a moraine in a glacier and it is as cold and frightening as I’d expect. Secrets from under London with Bradley Garret from the London Consolidation Crew are revealed as they head to places that they really shouldn’t be going. Underneath forests are more than just roots, as Macfarlane understands how trees talk to each other through the Wood Wide Web. One of the deepest points he reaches is to see the place where they look at the stars…

The way into the Underland is through the riven trunk of an old ash tree…

It is through these and the other locations he takes us, that we get to hear the stories of these places that never see the sun. As will all of Macfarlane’s books, there is a wider message that he is talking about in what has been called the Anthropocene and that is about the damage that we are doing to this, our only planet. The reason he can abseil down the moraine on the glacier is because of global warming and the implications for humanity should the repositories hold the nuclear waste leak or rupture do not even bear thinking about. If you have read any of his previous books then this is a must read. It is not as uplifting as those books as it is much darker given the places he visits and the subject matter but that doesn’t make it any less thrilling. It is not one to read if you suffer from claustrophobia. I like the way that he can link seemingly unrelated subjects from classical history to modern day physics with that common thread of being under the ground. Macfarlane has a way with words that carry you as he heads deep Underland to see our past and glimpse our future. I have been anticipating this for over a year now and it was well worth the wait. If there was one tiny flaw, I would have liked to have seen some photos included of the places he visits.

Bird Therapy by Joe Harkness

Welcome to Halfman, Halfbook for my stop on the Blog Tour for Bird Therapy by Joe Harkness and published by Unbound.

 

About the Book

‘I can’t remember the last book I read that I could say with absolute assurance would save lives. But this one will’ Chris Packham

When Joe Harkness suffered a breakdown in 2013, he tried all the things his doctor recommended: medication helped, counselling was enlightening, and mindfulness grounded him. But nothing came close to nature, particularly birds. How had he never noticed such beauty before? Soon, every avian encounter took him one step closer to accepting who he is.

The positive change in Joe’s wellbeing was so profound that he started a blog to record his experience. Three years later he has become a spokesperson for the benefits of birdwatching, spreading the word everywhere from Radio 4 to Downing Street.

In this groundbreaking book filled with practical advice, Joe explains the impact that birdwatching had on his life, and invites the reader to discover these extraordinary effects for themselves.

 

About the Author

Joe Harkness has been writing a Bird Therapy blog for the last three years. In 2017, he had articles published in The Curlew and Birdwatch magazine as well as recording three ‘tweets of the day’ for BBC Radio 4. He is employed as a Special Educational Needs teacher and has worked in the youth sector for nine years. He lives in Norfolk.

 

My Review

Just as he was putting the twisted bed sheet around his neck, the front door opened and footsteps pounded up the stairs. A firm but kind voice persuaded him to pause and think again. He did. This act was the culmination of many years of depression and anxiety, but thankfully it was a turning point. He was given medical assistance and drugs and whilst they helped, they weren’t giving him the desire for life that he needed back. That happened on a walk across a field one day near North Walsham. A huge brown bird appeared over the trees in front of them. Without really knowing why he instinctively knew it was a buzzard. That one sighting, seeing that magnificent bird soaring free moved something in his subconscious mind. The road to recovery had fully begun.

This one buzzard reignited a dormant love of bird that he used to have as a child and brought back memories flooding back of happier times spent with his grandfather whose passion for the outdoors had rubbed of on him. Before he knew it he had begun watching birds, and the time spent outdoors had begun to make him feel better. He decided not to go down the twitcher route as he could see that the dash to find a rarity would add to his anxieties, he decided to start keeping a list and began a blog.

Little did he know where this would take him. His article touched a nerve and he began to be known for extolling the benefits of birdwatching, even ending up at Downing Street and on the radio and of course this book. The book is full of personal anecdotes showing how the recovery from mental health, even from the abyss that Joe stood at, is possible. This is a touching story of one man’s recovery. Given Joe’s anxiety, it is quite an accomplishment that he got the support to write this and then actually did it. His key to success was getting outside, taking the time to enjoy all that the natural world has to offer and letting it refresh and replenish his soul. I liked the pointers at the end of each chapter of practical things to do and this is another book like The Nature Fix and the Wild Remedy that provide evidence that the natural world is important for our mental health.

 

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

You can find Joe on Twitter here  @birdtherapy

Mental health is important, if you are feeling depressed or anxious, then speak to someone who can help. This may be a family member, or you might be better speaking to an independent expert who will be able to help you. Do not ignore it.

My thanks to Anne Cater of #RandomThingsTours for the copy of the book to read.

The A to Z of Skateboarding by Tony Hawks

Welcome to Halfman, Halfbook for my stop on the Blog Tour for The A to Z Skateboarding by Tony Hawks and published by Unbound

About the Book

For more than twenty years, Tony Hawks has been mistaken for Tony Hawk, the American skateboarder. Even though it is abundantly clear on his website that he is an English comedian and author, people still write to him asking the best way to do a kickflip or land a melon.

One mischievous day he started writing back in a pompous tone, goading his correspondents for their spelling mistakes and poor grammar, while offering bogus or downright silly advice on how to improve their skateboarding.

Featuring entries on Pain, Disappointment, Underachievers, Quorn and the Vatican, this is his A to Z guide to the world of skateboarding, as seen through the eyes of someone who knows absolutely nothing about it.

 

About the Author

Tony Hawks is a radio and TV comedian who makes regular appearances on I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue, Just a Minute and Have I Got News for You. He wrote the Sunday Times bestselling Round Ireland with a Fridge, which has since sold more than 800,000 copies and been made into a feature film.

 

My Review

For two decades of his life, Tony Hawkes has been mistaken for the pro skateboarder Tony Hawk. It wasn’t helped when the American released his first video game, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater and that tiny punctuation mark suddenly meant that the visitors to Tony Hawks’ website increased dramatically. Even though he has tried to make it abundantly clear that he is not a skateboarder, rather an author, a BBC Radio 4 star and comedian, he has received countless messages from excited fans.

To begin with, the deleted button was used a lot, but after a while, his twisted sense of humour gave him the idea to actually answer these messages from the fans of the other Tony. So began a series of cheeky, or in reality, fairly thinly veiled sarcasm, he replies back to these messages. And they are hilarious.

As he knows almost nothing about skateboarding, he thought he would share his extensive knowledge in this A to Z of the sport. So if you had no idea what a kickflip was, or always wondered about why anyone would want to count to 900 then this is the book for you. If you had come across his other books, then you’ll probably guess, this is full of very much tongue in cheek humour. Completely daft and thoroughly enjoyable. Possibly not one for the skateboarder in your life… I should also add that all the profits for this book will be donated to his charity – The Tony Hawks Centre – which offers free health care to chronically ill children in Moldova. 

 

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 of #RandomThingsTours for the copy of the book to read.

Thinking On My Feet by Kate Humble

3.5 out of 5 stars

Modern life seems to be more and more associated around screens, we spend hours looking at them avoiding exercise and making ourselves unhealthy. But the simple act of going for a walk away from your screen can have lots of benefits, especially if your walk takes in the natural world. Kate Humble is a big fan of walking, so much so that she ranks the importance of having that morning walk alongside her first cup of tea.

Her busy life of filming means that she is not always able to walk from her home in the Welsh Hills with her beloved dogs, but when she is away she takes every opportunity to get outside and see the are she is staying in.

Written in a diary form and set over the course of a year, she tells us of life’s ups and downs, the places that she travels to all over the world and most importantly the walks that she undertakes both long and short. These are often taken alone with her dog, Teg, or with groups of friends and their children and hounds. When she is away from home she doesn’t miss the opportunity to take a walk, as she has concluded that this is the best way to understand a new city or region as you pace its streets.

A cancelled assignment means that she has an opportunity to walk a long distance footpath close to home and spends nine days walking the Wye Valley Walk. She also meets people who have used walking as a form of coping with the trials and tribulations of life, from cancer survivors to a soldier recovering from PTSD and a guy who conducts therapy sessions whilst walking around Central Park.

Being a diary it deals with the mundane, she goes through the routines of home life, putting the washing in, squeezing in more things in than time allows, to the significant events that happen over the course of the book. But primarily this is a book about walking and Humble is a big advocate for that act of putting one foot in front of the other and enjoying the natural world.

The Sea That Beckoned by Angela Gabrielle Fabunan

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

Home means many different things to each and every one of us. For some it is the place where you were born, have lived, and are likely to end your life in. For others who have for numerous reason had to move from one area to another, there are layers of complexity to that definition.

 Angela Gabrielle Fabunan was originally from the Philippines, she moved to New York to study and it was that clash of cultures and the conflict between knowing what was once home and what is now home is what drives the poems in her debut collection, The Sea That Beckoned.

Her poems talk about that awkwardness that comes from being new, how every action is done as unobtrusively as possible. Learning a new language and unlearning an old one. Some of the poems talk about learning to deal with rejection and not fitting in before, others talk of previous life and family gatherings.

 

We model minorities speak

even if we become ghosts,

even when we’re silenced,

even when no one is listening.

 

I liked the way that the poems used different formats and layouts with the text to alter the rhythm and cadence as you read your way through the book. The language is rich and full of meaning, however, there were some of the poems I was less keen on, but I think it is a book that I will come back to another time.

Three Favourite poems:

The Other Shore

Threshold

Snow

Independent Bookshop Week 2019

For all of those who just one click their latest release to their phone or Kindle are missing out the pleasure of walking into a bookshop and spending some time looking. If you are anything like me you will quite often you will find the book you were after and inevitably end up with a couple more. I can hear my overcrowded bookshelves crying softly…

Did you know that there are around 900 independent bookshops around the UK? This creates thousands of jobs in the local community as well as thousands of other jobs in publishing and associated industries. For every pound that you spend in an independent shop almost doubles in value as it transfers to the local economy.

My very local book shop is Gulliver’s Bookshop in Wimborne.:

This bookshop has been going fifty years this year and is run by bookshop angels. No really. The family that own and run it, surname is Angel. They also have a sister bookshop called Westbourne Books and now own the shop Square Records for those that want to choose something to listen with their chosen reading material. I am fairly clued up on new releases with regards to non fiction in the coming year, but every now and again there is something on their shelf that I haven’t come across.

Not only are they fifty years old, but this year they won Best Independent Bookshop in the South West and were a finalist for the overall award. Sadly they didn’t win (boo), but this is an acknowledgement of the effect they are having in the town. The other thing that they have been running for the past nine years if the Wimborne Literary Festival. I have been almost all of the years it has been running and they are great little events and a chance to meet some of my favourite authors.

If you’re not sure where your nearest independent bookshop is then you can find one here. Whilst they have been having a resurgence recently, you do have to use them or you will loose them.

Follow Gulliver’s on twitter here, and follow the hashtags #BookshopHeroes and #IndieBookshopWeek and @booksaremybag for news this week about other peoples favourite shops.

Tiny Churches by Dixe Wills

4 out of 5 stars

Whilst not particularly religious, Dixe Wills still takes time to pop into most of the churches that he passes as he travels around the countryside on his bike. These places are not huge edifices that can seat hundreds, rather they are modest buildings that have served the needs of their local communities for years, and in quite a lot of cases hundreds and hundreds of years.

For this book, Wills has had to reduce his shortlist down to 60 buildings and in line with his other books, he has chosen the smallest of them. Even the largest of those his has picked can seat 30 or so at a squeeze, but most only have room for a dozen or so. The range of building he has selected too is impressive, there are places that disappeared and the buildings were discovered much later with original architecture intact. He visits an amazing chapel made from Nissan Huts by Italian Prisoners of War WW2 up in Orkney. There are buildings that highlight the Romanesque, the Gothic and even takes us to the oldest wooden church in the country. It never ceases to amaze me just how old some of these places are. Frequently Norman and a significant number of churches with Anglo Saxon origins and even one with Roman foundations.

It is not a spiritual journey rather a pilgrimage to the tiny, quirky and always impressive spiritual focal points of villages and towns. I like Will writing style as he always manages to find lots of interesting things to say about any of the subjects that he is writing about, and this is no different, each church has a potted history of its significant features and his own personal take of his visit. Most importantly you can go and visit these yourself, clear details are given on how to get there and each mini-biography is accompanied by lovely photos of the church in question and some of the internal fittings and settings. Not just a book for the architecture buff, but one for those that have a passing interest in the places they are rooted in. A good companion volume to The King of Dust by Alex Woodcock.

Salvation by Peter F. Hamilton

Today is the publication day for the paperback of Salvation by Peter F. Hamilton. For those of you who haven’t read it yet, here is an extract:

Earth Calling

Drifting through interstellar space, three light-years out from the star 31 Aquilae, the Neána abode cluster picked up a series of short, faint electromagnetic pulses that lasted intermittently for eighteen years. The early signatures were familiar to the Neána, and faintly worrying: nuclear fission detonations, followed seven years later by fusion explosions. The technological progress of whoever was detonating them was exceptionally swift by the usual metric of emerging civilizations.

Metaviral spawn chewed into the cometry chunks that anchored the vast cluster, spinning out a string of flimsy receiver webs twenty kilometers across. They aligned themselves on the G-class star fifty light-years away, where the savage weapons were being deployed.

Sure enough, a torrent of weak electromagnetic signals was pouring out from the star’s third planet. A sentient species was entering into its early scientific industrial state.

The Neána were concerned that so many nuclear weapons were being used. Clearly, the new species was disturbingly aggressive. Some of the cluster’s minds welcomed that.

Analysis of the radio signals, now becoming analogue audiovisual broadcasts, revealed a bipedal race organized along geo-tribal lines, and constantly in conflict. Their specific biochemical composition was one that, from the Neána perspective, gave them sadly short lives. That was posited as the probable reason behind their faster than usual technological progression.

That there would be an expedition was never in doubt; the Neána saw that as their duty no matter what kind of life evolved on distant worlds. The only question now concerned the level of assistance to be offered. Those who welcomed the new species’ aggressive qualities wanted to make the full spectrum of Neána technology available. They almost prevailed.

I hope that you enjoyed that. I loved this book when it first came out, and you can read my original review here

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