Lost Animals by Errol Fuller

4 out of 5 stars

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

As we stumble into the Anthropocene, we humans are in the process of making numerous plants and animals extinct. Some of these we know are happening, the western black rhino is now gone forever and the northern white rhino has only got two females left; the last male dies in 2018. Just in the UK alone, there are 67 birds on the red list.

Knowing that these are threatened is bad enough, but it is more poignant when you can see photos of the animals that have vanished in the past century or so. In this book, Fuller has found photographs of 28 different species that we will never see again in the wild. Of the 28 there are a lot of birds that we have photos of including the Laughing Owl, the pink-headed duck, the Imperial Woodpecker and what was once the most numerous bird on the planet, the passenger pigeon. There are a few mammals included too, the greater short-tailed bat is quite a beauty and there are lots of pictures of the Thylacine, the carnivorous marsupial from Tasmania. While this is thought to be extinct, there have been recent reports of sightings again.

I can’t really say that I liked this book, as the subject matter is too tragic. However, it is well written and researched and I thought that Fuller has put together a book that is worth reading for its historical context. It should also be read as a warning for humanity about just how easy it is to lose some of the unique and wonderful creatures that we have on this planet.

The Long Field by Pamela Petro

4 out of 5 stars

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

How can somewhere that you have never visited feel like home immediately? It can and it does. For Pamela Petro, this happened the first time that she visited Wales to study for a Master’s Degree at a university English Department. She knew almost nothing about the place or the country or its particular and unique history, culture and especially its language. But she felt at home in this place. On returning to America, her family there wondered if the infatuation with Wales would fade over time.

It didn’t.

The was her first physical experience of the Welsh word, hiraeth. She had discovered it before when looking at a bilingual poster, on the English section the word was repeated in italics and she asked her friend, Andy why it hadn’t been translated. He replied saying that it couldn’t be translated. It would be a while before she would come to know the meaning herself, even though she had come across the inadequate ‘homesickness’ as an explanation. A close definition, if you could call it that, is the sense of being out of one’s home place.

The longer she was away, the greater the longing to be back there.

This multi-layered memoir is her exploration of her inner self and the feelings she has towards what has become her adopted country. But there is much more to this than just Wales, it is also about her parents, the train accident that nearly killed her, of her sexuality and long term partner, Marguerite, her teaching and her writing and travels for her book on the Welsh language. But this is mostly about Wales, how the people and their outlook have helped define who she is, the inevitable rain and relishing a sunny day and driving the slow and twisting roads to the coast.

She has a wonderful way with words in this book, managing to capture perfectly that first time that she knew that the landscape, people and language of Wales had for some reason always had a place in her heart. Even though the elusive meaning of hiraeth is very difficult to explain, what Petro does with this book is to tease out the multiple threads of meaning that this word has for her and how she has always sought it on her many trips to Wales. I am not sure I can explain it either, but I know when we moved from Surrey to Dorset, I felt a connection to this place that I didn’t have in Surrey. The is the first of Petro’s books that I have read, even though I have had Travels in An Old Tongue on my bookshelves at home for quite a while I have never got to read it. I am going to have to rectify that soon.

No Matter How Many Skies Have Fallen by Ken Worpole

3.5 out of 5 stars

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

There are lots of Second World War based history books that remember the heroism, battles and losses of the Second World War, just walk into any bookshop and you can pick from subjects as diverse as spies, naval battles, the D Day landings and so it goes on. There is very little around on those people that took the moral high ground and decided that they would not or could not fight. This book concerns a group of pacifists who in 1943 took possession of a vacant farm in Frating, a hamlet on the Essex Tendring Peninsula and it was here that they set about making a community farm.

Their inspiration was a number of writers who were associated with the Adelphi Journal such as Orwell and Lawrence who were thinking about radical ideas for society. It became a livelihood for individuals and families who wanted to do something different and came to support and help other refugees and even some prisoners of war. It was hard work, but it did manage to earn the respect of other farms in the area with its successes in arable and livestock farming.

Worpole tells how it began with a small community of 30 people, but by the time it had got to 1948, there were considerably more people living there and numbers swelled at harvest time too. It was never a utopia though, the work was hard and relentless and there always seemed to be some conflicting opinions between some of the main people on the farm in the book. The children who lived on the farm all seems to go on to do a whole variety of careers in educational or artistic positions. The farm was making a profit by the end of its tenure, but they still had to service its debt and those obligations meant the end of the venture.

I thought that this was a fascinating insight into a part of society in World War 2 that is very rarely written about. The research is meticulous and there are lots of photos of the people that are in the book as well as some of the activities that took place on the farm. I thought that Worpole has managed to make this a useful historical reference document as well as a series of personal stories about some of the characters that were at the farm. If you like history books with a different spin then this is well worth reading.

Flight Of The Diamond Smugglers by Matthew Gavin Frank

2.5 out of 5 stars

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

It is amazing to think that diamonds are made from the same stuff that you use on a barbeque. One is a black crumbly material that is utterly opaque, the other is a sparkling clear gemstone that allows rays of light to pass through while the internal structure reflects, refracts and disperses that light helping them shine brilliantly. Not only are they both forms of carbon, but they do both burn…

The majority of diamonds in the world have come out of Southern Africa and since 1888 it has been controlled by the global monopoly that is De Beers. They have controlled the market by limiting the availability of diamonds, buying up excess stock, flooding the market to reduce prices and damaging competitors as well as other methods of price-fixing.

They are not particularly great to their employees either, not only do they work in some pretty tough conditions and the company takes vast personal liberties to ensure that they are not stealing any of the product, but they only pay them the minuscule amount of 0.00019% of the final sale value of the precious stone that they have found. No wonder the methods of smuggling rough diamonds from the areas and novel and original, from sockets at the rear of false eyes, inserting them in various parts of the anatomy and by using homing pigeons.

It is the pigeons that are the lead-in story that is threaded about the book, he first meets with someone who he calls Msizi and his bird called Bartholomew. This pigeon is Msizi’s opportunity to smuggle diamonds from the mines to his home and bring a little hope to him and his family. Like with all of the methods that the smugglers use, the company comes down very hard of those that seek to steal from them and the policy is to shoot any birds they see.

This lead is the beginning to, Frank finding out more about just how the company operates, and he speaks to oppressed workers to some of the armed heavies that patrols the company lands. What he really wants to do though is meet the almost mythical Mr Lester, the all-seeing and all-knowing De Beers executive whose reputation is legendary among smugglers and company men alike.

I have mixed feelings about this book. I thought that parts of it were really well written, atmospheric and occasionally terrifying. I didn’t think that his personal story should have been in there. It felt like it was added to add the ‘personal interest’ element that editors feel should be there. There was enough in the stories that he did pick up on though to have a still made it a decent book. To begin with, it feels like the criminals are the smugglers who are trying to make a little more money for themselves and their families. But it ends up with the company looking like the real criminals in the end.

Wyntertide by Andrew Caldecott

3 out of 5 stars

The town of Rotherweird is an anomaly. It is independent from England and has been so for the past four hundred years all to protect a secret. The last man who tried to exploit that secret, Sir Veronal Slickstone is now dead. As Rotherweird tries to return to normal, or as normal as they can get in this strange town.

But things start to happen and people become aware of omens that are disturbing. A warning is delivered at a funeral the Herald disappears and the covenant between town and countryside is under threat by democracy, of all things. The mayoral election has galvanised the population, but it is setting different factions against each other. As this is unfolding sinister things are happening in the background, Geryon Wynter, a man that everyone thought was buried in their dark Elizabethan past has been planning something over the past centuries. No one can really see exactly what is happening, but the approach of the Solstice may be the key.

Overall I thought this was fairly good. The plot is moderately paced, full of subtle clues and scenes that build towards the end as all the threads come together. Like with the first book, I thought that the mini world, Rotherweird, that he has constructed is unnerving and familiar at the same time. I like the use of magic and 16th-century tech that he mixes in with it too. One flaw for me was the number of characters that swirl through the plot, it felt like there were too many and it always took a moment to try to work out quite what was going on each time. I will be reading the last book in the series though, as I want to see how it ends.

Goshawk Summer by James Aldred

4 out of 5 stars

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

He is used to some of the more exotic regions of the planet but a commission is a commission and he agrees to take on the filming of a pair of Goshawks in the place that he remembers from a childhood growing up in Ringwood on the edge of the New Forest. He meets up with one of the rangers who takes him to the locations where he knows they are nesting. The first is the best with regards to location, but there are no birds around. They spend longer looking at the other sites but have no luck. A hunch takes them back to the original one and there on the nest is a female. He has found his pair.

There is a sublime chaos about ancient woodland that speaks of perfect natural balance, and for me, such places nourish the soul like no other environment.

Just as he is preparing the site the lockdown is announced in March 2020. It looks like he won’t be filming them anytime soon, but a few weeks into the lockdown he gets the permissions that he needs to undertake the filming. HE is in the forest at a time when it feels like the world has stopped. Gone is the constant rumble of traffic across the A31, the skies are silent and empty as nothing is flying out of Southampton and Bournemouth. There is just him and this pair of Goshawks.

So begins a spring and summer of studying these birds in perfect peace, as well as the pain and pleasure of climbing 50 feet up in the air to sit in a cramped hide all day to film a pair of Goshawks. He managed to get 400 hours of filming in the end. But there is much more to that book than this. He takes time away from the Goshawks to see Curlews, a much-endangered species as well as filming a family of fox cubs in a ditch near where their earth is.

For most, the tangled web of a forest canopy is a dangerous, impenetrable barrier. Even a peregrine wouldn’t enter it at speed. Yet – as we have come to see – goshawks aren’t like other birds.

As the restrictions are slowly lifted after the first lockdown the people return to the New Forest. Then as restrictions are eased again the forest fills with cars and people. They are taking their lockdown frustrations out on the place and leave litter, block roads and driveways and generally get angry anyone for no apparent reason. He worries that the noise will cause the Goshawks to abandon the nest, but they are more of stronger stuff, they are not the alpha predator for no reason at all. He carries on the filming, watching the chicks consume vast quantities of small birds and mammals.

There is much more depth to this book than just the diary of his filming. It is also the story of a thousand-year-old forest during one of the strangest times in our recent history, but it is a collection of thoughts on our wider relationship with the natural world and how we need to change to make it better, rather than just ruin it all the time. I did like this book a lot. It is a short book so his prose is taut and considered; there is not a wasted word here, however, he still manages to convey the brutal beauty of these fantastic birds. The diary format works really well too, it is a reminder that whatever happens in our own little worlds, the earth keeps turning and gradually changing each and every day. There was a brief eulogy to his late father, Chris, at the end of the book; he shared happy times with his father in the New Forest and lockdowns and work commitments meant that he never spent as much time with him in that last year. His life was cruelly taken too quickly by cancer at the end of 2020.

British Moths by James Lowen

4 out of 5 stars

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

Whilst I had always known about moths, I had never really taken the time to look at them as a group of insects. Since reading Much Ado about Mothing, which was published earlier this year I have been keeping my eyes peeled for moths around the home and garden. We have had a few and a friend and neighbour occasionally have a moth trap running so I have been round to see what they have attracted in the morning.

Given that there are around 2500 different species, it amazes me that so many of them have very different and individual names. There are some fantastic names too, including, Nut Tree Tussock, Scalloped Hazel, Frosted Orange and Feathered Thorn. I tended to think of butterflies having all the glamour, but looking at some of the photos in here, there are some equally beautiful moths, including, Waved Umber, Clouded Border, Brindled green and Scare Silver Lines.

In lots of ways, this is not an easy book to review, because it is not a book that you would generally read from cover to cover. That said what James Lowen has produced here is a first-class beginners guide book to British moths that you will be most like to find if using a moth trap. The photos are first class, and the information that accompanies each moth is full of useful details, such as when you are most likely to see one, the area of the country and any specific habitats that they are most likely to be found in. It must be remembered that this is a gateway guide and does not have every species in. If you are after more comprehensive books, he has even listed them in the back along with other resources for moth addiction…

London Clay by Tom Chivers

Welcome to Halfman, Halfbook for my stop on the Blog Tour for London Clay by Tom Chivers and published by Doubleday .

 

About the Book

Part personal memoir, part lyrical meditation, London Clay takes us deep in to the nooks and crannies of a forgotten city: a hidden landscape long buried underneath the sprawling metropolis. Armed with just his tattered Streetfinder map, author Tom Chivers follows concealed pathways and explores lost islands, to uncover the geological mysteries that burst up through the pavement and bubble to the surface of our streets.

From Roman ruins to a submerged playhouse, abandoned Tube stations to ancient riverbeds, marshes and woodlands, this network of journeys combines to produce a compelling interrogation of London’s past. London Clay examines landscape and our connection to place, and celebrates urban edgelands: in-between spaces where the natural world and the city mingle, and where ghosts of the deep past can be felt as a buzzing in the skull. It is also a personal account of growing up in London, and of overcoming loss through the layered stories of the capital.

Written in rich and vivid prose, London Clay will inspire readers to think about what lies beneath their feet, and by doing so reveal new ways of looking at the city.

 

About the Author

TOM CHIVERS is a poet and publisher. He is the author of two pamphlets and two full collections of poetry to date, and is director of the independent press Penned in the Margins. In 2008 he was the Bishopsgate Institute’s first writer in residence, and has appeared widely at events and made a number of contributions to radio, including presenting a 30 minute documentary for Radio 4. He has collaborated with the climate arts organisation Cape Farewell and conducts immersive walking tours of London. Chivers is currently an Associate Artist of the National Centre for Writing.

 

My Review

London has a long history, for the past 2000 thousand years, it has grown to the financial and cultural global city of today whilst surviving several invasions, one major fire, a plague or two. Bronze Age bridges have been found but the people that made it their own were the Romans. They settled there and made their city at the point where it was possible to cross. The river meant they could control the local area and still have access to the resources and might of their empire.

But Chivers wants to start with the real history of the place, seeking the deep history of the landscapes of the lost rivers and secret woodlands. Like with all good adventures it begins with a map, a streetfinder that is being changed with felt tip pens and highlighters. Trafalgar  Square turns orange to show the underlying silt and clay, the banks of the Thames are shade yellow to represent the alluvium deposited by the river. Under all of these layers is the clay that has played a big part in the creation of the city as some of the people who have inhabited it. As the maps are coloured in, features that have long been hidden show their ghostly presence once again.

A map is only so useful though. What he needs to do it to start to see if that underlying geology is still visible in the modern concrete jungle. He knows exactly where to start too, Aldgate. It was here that he noticed a trench that was around 15 feet deep and was slowly accumulating junk. He could see the brick lining but also visible was the silt that built London. But it is a reminder that London is a city that is constantly changing, buildings that are not that old are ripped out to make space for the newest glass edifices. His next journey takes him to Dulwich in search of the rivers that once flowed across the city and now only flow through culverts before he traces the Walbrook on the modern streets.

It is clay. Of course it is. London Clay. I cannot help myself. I stretch my hand towards the bank and dig my thumb in. it comes out thick and yellow. The dark, sandy yellow of London stock brick. Clay.

Westminster is now the centre of our government and establishment, but it used to be a river delta in its past. He heads down into a sewer to see the River Fleet and has to shower a long time after that experience. If you know where and how to look there are still echoes of the roads that the Romans first used, Watling Street, Stane Street as well as hints of more recent London, as he searches for the lost island of Bermondsey and sees if the Olympic Park has eradicated the ancient causeway that crossed the marshes.

I thought this was a fantastic book. For me, Chivers has got the mix of history, geology and personal memoir spot on. I particularly liked the way that he sees the way that even the modern cityscape reflects the underlying geology, the subtle rises in the modern tarmac reveal the paths of ancient causeways and the traces of the rivers long since buried under the streets. He has a way of bringing to the surface, moments of London’s ancient history in a way that is utterly compelling. He draws deeply from his life as a Londoner and his knack of seeing the tiniest detail in the cityscape he walks is transferred onto the page as he uses his skill as a poet in the wonderful prose. If you want a very different book on London that explores how we have transformed the city as much as it has shaped our nation.

 

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 Random Things Tours and Doubleday for the copy of the book to read.

An Affair Of The Heart by Dilys Powell

3.5 out of 5 stars

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

Dilys Powell’s first fell in love with the country and people of Greece in 1931. She was there with her husband, the archaeologist Humfry Payne, who was undertaking an archaeological dig at the time. She came to know the villagers who were being employed as labourers on the site and came to know them as friends as they spent years camping on the sun-drenched site.

Tragically her husband was to die in 1936 from a staphylococcus infection. Her experience of the Greek people led to a Political Warfare Executive, but it was a place that she longed to return to. That opportunity came after the war when she returned time and time again to Perachora, the site of Payne’s excavations of the Heraion.

The water was soft and warm. I was content not to be reminded of the secrets beneath it, but simply to swim: to float, leisurely and indolent with the sun drying onto my face; to be solitary.

This book is a collection of her visits to the country, there are stories of her exploring remote parts in the company of shepherds walking along tracks to the coast. She learns of the atrocities that took place during the war, of villages being burnt in reprisal for the smallest of misdemeanours. All around homes are being rebuilt and she talks to those that survived the massacre by running to the mountains. She has a couple of unsuccessful attempts at diving but prefers to stick with the snorkel

Even though the timeline was fragmented in this book as she visits Greece multiple times, it still worked for me. It gives a sense of her picking the pieces up of her life after losing her husband, travelling back to the place that she loved and rebuilding her life once again. What her writing does best for me is the detail she reveals of the places that she passes through and the people that she meets. It is evocative travel writing though and she captures the moments that the country is changing before and after the war.

Weathering by Lucy Wood

2.5 out of 5 stars

Pearl hadn’t intended to end up in the river and she is not fully sure how she got there either. It might have been something to do with falling down the very dodgy stairs in her crumbling house. But she is in there.

Ada, Pearl’s daughter, had never expected to end back up in her mothers home again, in that rain-soaked valley and people that she wasn’t particularly looking forward to seeing after leaving them behind over a decade ago. The house is slowly succumbing to the relentless weather, the heating has failed and it is so damp that she can barely get a fire going.

Pepper has always followed her restless mother, Pearl, around from place to place as she sought somewhere to settle. She is a nomad too, but this house is full of things to discover, memories that she never knew she had from her past generations and there is that strange old woman who sits on the river bank with her feet in the cold water.

Pearl does not want to stay, this place has too many unhappy memories for her, but winter is coming and before they know it they are involved in life in the valley once again. They never thought that they would settle in one place, but things are changing, Pepper has calmed down and they feel they have a presence keeping an eye out for them both.

There were some parts of this that I liked, the writing is atmospheric and has wonderful descriptions of the river and the natural world outside the house. The three main characters, or two and a bit really… Pearl, Ada and Pepper are all independent and in some ways a bit dysfunctional way too, the way they interact and change as circumstances develop is the main point of the book. One problem that I did have with it was I kept thinking that Ada was the grandmother mother figure who permeates the book in all sorts of ways, but it was her daughter! There is precious little plot in here, and if you are after stories with a similar feel but with a bit more substance to them, I’d recommend Lanny or Elmet.

« Older posts

© 2021 Halfman, Halfbook

Theme by Anders NorénUp ↑