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One Man and a Mule by Hugh Thomson

4 out of 5 stars

Ever since Wainwright popularised the Coast to Coast in his book it has become one of the countries favourite walks with thousands of people taking a couple of weeks to walk it every year. There have even been some mad souls who have run it, completing it in under two days! Hugh Thomson though is doing things differently and undertaking the route with a mule called Jethro. Mules are not that common these days, but they were regularly used as pack animals until the middle ages and then stopped being used for one reason or another.

Having got a mule with him, he is not going to be able to use the footpaths recommended in the guide book, however, he is going to be following the old drovers roads that are slowing fading from the landscape from lack of use. This not about the journey either, rather this is his way of meeting the people that live along the route and taking the time to contemplate life a little and think. Jethro is a conversation starter as well as being a silent companion, and he has it the easiest too. Rather than being saddled with loads that his medieval forebears would have been expected to carry, he is very lightly loaded. He is also accompanied by the Irish writer, Jasper Winn, who you’d normally fine in a boat. It does make a slight mockery of the title of the book, but Winn adds far more depth to the walk as they set the world to rights across the spine of England.

It had parallels to Spanish Steps, where Tim Moore walks across Spain with a donkey. Not as funny as that book, but I thought that this was a really enjoyable meander across the bridleways of north England very loosely following the coast to coast path.  I liked that fact that he wasn’t trying to add deeper meaning to this walk, rather doing it because he could and because he wanted too. The conversations with the people that he meets, from other authors to old school friends he hasn’t seen for half a lifetime, add depth to the book and he little sojourns to see particular things of interest highlight how much history is layered on this landscape. Both authors were frustrated that Jethro’s social media page had more likes then either of theirs which did make me chuckle.

The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read by Philippa Perry

2.5 out of 5 stars

Parenting is never easy. There is no right way to do it, but there are plenty of wrong ways and for those that are interested there are a plethora of books out there that claim to provide all the advice that you will ever need in raising your genetic heritage. This, however, comes with the by-line, this is a parenting book for people who don’t buy parenting books, which is quite a bold claim. Psychotherapist Philippa Perry is well placed to make this claim with two decades of experience of case studies and her own experience of being a parent. She concentrates on the bigger picture of being a parent rather than the minutia, concentrating on the relationship and how important that is to their well being.

We have successfully managed to get our firstborn all the way through to adulthood as she was 18 earlier this year. Not totally sure how we managed that, but we did. We were never perfect and reading this has highlighted some errors, but I wish this was around all those years ago when she was first born. If you are starting to hear yourself saying the things that your parent did then it is probably high time that you read this. It is full of sensible advice, but I wished it had more on teenagers, as it is mostly toddler focused. It does have sensible suggestions though and she re-iterates all the way through that these are suggestions and you sometimes need to go with your gut instinct.

These Darkening Days by Benjamin Myers

4 out of 5 stars

A man staggers down a passageway in the small town and finds a lady slumped on the ground and covered in blood. He sees the knife on the ground, picks it up and then panics and drops it down a nearby drain and rushes away from the scene. She is found and taken to hospital, where the surgeons say that the knife missed her eye by 2mm and declare her lucky to be alive.

Most of the residents of the town are shocked by this unprovoked attack. But the victim, Josephine Jenks, a former soft porn star seems unperturbed by the attention. Roddy Mace, a journalist for the local newspaper is covering the crime, however, given her background, the Sun newspaper really want a scoop on this and they dispatch the pretty unpleasant hack, Jeremy Fitz, to the town to secure the interviews and exclusive coverage.

A day or so later there is a second attack, the wife of an alcoholic is slashed and also ends up in hospital. Her idle husband starts to put together a mob to find the attacker themselves as the police aren’t making any progress. Two further people are slashed, a guy who staggers into a restaurant bleeding profusely and a husband finds his wife dead in a farm building. This is now a murder enquiry. Just as the hysteria reaches its peak, a copper who has been put on rest from the force re-appears back in the town and starts developing his own theories about the crimes as he follows his own leads with the help of Mace.

It has the standard tropes of a copper returning after he sees the pretty hopeless local police station is floundering. But there are much darker shards in the plot, it is full of menace as the attacks seem unprovoked and unrelated, the rapid rise of the mob and their intentions is pretty scary too. This is the forth of Myers books that I have read now, and whilst I preferred The Gallows Pole and Beastings, it is still one of the best crime books that I have read in a long while.  It is the classic Myers lyrical writing too, it is as much about the place and the landscape as it is about the untangling of the crime, but fast-paced and really really good.

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

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