On Nature, Unexpected Ramblings on the British Countryside
I could not have been sent a more appropriate book for my interests than 'On Nature, Unexpected Ramblings on the British Countryside'. There is almost nothing that fascinates me more than nature and the natural world. I quite literally rubbed my hands together and squealed when this arrived in the post.
This book is written by a diverse smattering of writers from many backgrounds, all of which are anchored by their love of the British countryside. It has been compiled by 'Caught by the River' which is a website equally interesting and well worth a look around. Link is above if you're curious!
Personally I thought the range of writers and their sometimes dramatically contrasting writing styles was a winning combination. It was never, at any point boring, and at no junction did I consider skipping a few pages to find a more interesting bit. The writers, to list them are (deep breath): Stuart Maconie, Chris Yates, Bill Drummond, Charles Rangeley-Wilson, Colin Elford, Martin Noble, Ceri Levy Tracey Thorn John Wright, Richard Adams, John Andrews, Jon Berry, Sarah Boden, Mathew Clayton, Mark Dredge, Paul Evans, Harry Griffin, Nick Hand, Dan Kieran, Richard King, Dexter Petley, Nick Small and Michael Smith. (Bet you couldn't say all that one in one go!) Some of the names you may recognise, others are less familiar, but equally worth their place here.
Each and every single writer is passionate about their topic and it really shows. Speaking of which, the subjects range from the experiences of a falconer; how to catch trout; a man's obsession with damsons; night fishing, the language we use to describe nature and habitat; how to be a lazy naturalist and far, far more. I don't want to list them all for fear of spoiling the surprise in case you decide to buy this book - because I have to say each new chapter is like opening a brown paper parcel that's just arrived in the post. You really have no idea what to expect. Obviously the theme is nature, but the spread of interests covered is huge.
There were a few stand out favourites for me. I loved the chapter entitled 'The Lazy Naturalist' by Nick Small. It appealed to my lax attitude to observing nature. Never in all my years have I set out with a pair of binoculars and sat in a bush for hours observing birds on a lake noting types of swans and marking them off in my bird book / bible - which is something I think a proper dyed-in-the-wool bird-watcher probably does. I'm far more likely to casually stand in front of our kitchen window observing blue tits and sparrows bickering over stale bread. However this make me no less enthusiastic about our feathered friends than the true 'twitcher' as I believe they're called. Nick Small seems to share my thoughts exactly. You don't necessarily have to go to Outer Mongolia to watch fan tailed eagles soaring overhead to satisfy an interest in nature, you can find so much simply in your back yard.
Another one that really intrigued me was 'On the Road to Damascus' by Bill Drummond. You might not know the name, but if I said KLF and the 'Justified Ancients of MuMu' that might ring a few bells? You really wouldn't expect to see him here would you, but this is the nature of the book; it is exactly as it says in the title: 'Unexpected'. Bill appears to have an absolute, almost pathological passion for Damsons. He doesn't just say 'I like damsons, you can use them in gin or jam' though - he interweaves them through periods of his life, how damsons were grown at his old house whilst talking about old relationships and the history of the house for example. He uses damsons, of all things, as a narrative tool. Very, very clever!
Throughout the book there are beautifully simple, eye-catching, black and white illustrations. They are in themselves a feature that add so much, and I loved finding them at the start of each new chapter. These served as a preamble for what was to come, and captured the spirit of each tale very neatly.
'On Nature' is unique, originally and exquisitely written and makes for brilliant reading. I'd recommend it to anyone. If you don't have an enthusiasm for nature when you start reading this, you will have by the end of it. 10/10 :O)