At the beginning of the 1980’s society was declared to be non-existent, the rights of the individual were set to dominate. As political change flowed across our country the community spirit that had been there was steadily eroded. The effects of these changes were most profoundly felt at the bottom of society as the number of homeless increased steadily. Neil Ansell felt moved to work for the Simon Community as a volunteer helping those sleeping rough and living in squats. Living with almost nothing, avoiding bailiffs and living from day to day was pretty tough. Harder still was seeing those that he came to know and some who became friends either vanish never to be seen again or pass away with health and drug issues.
To escape from the intensity of living in London he would head to the beautiful Isle of Jura to reset his mind and soul. Whilst there he would revel in the remoteness and solitude and reconnect with the natural world.
Memories are the only things we truly own, and even they slip from our grasp if we don’t handle them with care
Deer Island is not a quite a memoir, more a brief and intense recollection of life in squats and sleeping rough around London and two brief interludes in Jura. Ansell has quite a beautiful way of writing, and like Deep Country, this is a delight to read. It is a fitting eulogy to those that he knew briefly and an acknowledgement of the landscapes of the West Coast that help ground him again.