Thursday, 17 November 2011

In Pursuit of Spring by Edward Thomas

Cycling with a poet to the Quantocks

Best known as a First World War poet, Edward Thomas here recounts a bike tour he made in the spring of 1913 from London to the Quantocks. He conveys the joy of the awakening season and his passage through the land, with its sights and smells and the marks of people who have lived in and shaped the landscape.
Like his hero Wiltshire writer Richard Jefferies, Thomas is impatient of conventional religion and its memorials to the conforming and the prosperous. He celebrates the small people and detail as he passes through on his way to the less tamed west and the sea.
He takes a meandering route, detouring to the houses of friends, and passing through many places familiar to me in the West Country. The 98 years since the ride was made act as an astigmatic lens. On the one hand we are not surprised that London has grown (though perhaps by how much - fields beyond Garrett Lane in Wandsworth). On the other, modern factories in the countryside like the Staverton Nestle Works and Shepton Mallet brewery were already standing, making the green fields a backdrop to bustling industry.
What is most striking is the absence of traffic, giving the cyclist space, time and quietness to take in the world he rides through: a range of sense appreciation opened to us by his pages, but in our car-dominated times only on our back roads.
In Pursuit of Spring website - photos along the route, links to the book
More of my quick reviews of cycling books:
or visit my bookcrossing page

Coming soon: David Byrne's Bicycle Diaries and Josie Drew's The Wind in My Wheels

Friday, 11 November 2011

A Grand Day Out

Canal path cycling among the autumn leaves

Planned as a 65 mile ride to London along the Grand Union Canal, it was clear that the weather last Saturday wasn't going to co-operate. So we made loops through MK..

 with stops at the Colosseo cafe in Fenny Stratford and lunch at the Black Horse, Gt Linford

20 miles of cycling fun and great company (Clare is behind the camera), topped off with an evening of fireworks and baked potatoes at The Well. A grand day out indeed!

The London cycle ride is still on - when the path surface is firmer in the spring

The Meadowlands by Robert Sullivan

Wilderness adventures on the edge of New York City

'Just five miles west of New York City, the Meadowlands is an untamed and very smelly 32-square-mile tract of swampland.. a memorable ode to an overlooked battleground in the struggle between progress and nature' - blurb

So is the Meadowlands.. an eyesore on New York's doorstep? A dump for toxic chemicals and unwanted gangland bosses and buildings? A wild warren of waterways and overgrown history?

 In fact all of the above, seen through the eyes of a man who celebrates quirkiness, delighting in the oddity that is everywhere if you look closely enough

 I enjoyed him kitting up in a city camping store, where the staff just don't get that he wants the gear to go out in the Meadowlands, that somehow they aren't worthy of proper attention, being unofficial countryside (link to Richard Mabey’s book of that title)

 'Dave spotted an egret, its long curved white neck the shape of a highway off-ramp, its white feathers the colour of Styrofoam' (p 80)

The Goshawk by TH White

Daybook of a self-taught hawk handler

'The chronicle of the training and taming of one of Germany's noblest birds of prey ' - blurb
A page from TH White's journal - more here

TH White taught English at Stowe School on the Bucks/Northants border in the 30s, when he withdrew into a quiet life of observing and writing about nature. He trains a goshawk using the only reference he can find - a medieval hawking manual - and we follow the small daily triumphs and challenges. Particularly striking is the process of 'manning' the bird, getting it used to the constant presence of it's owner over a sleepless 3 days.
A masterpiece of everyday awareness, the small things observed with a precise eye (a 'Naples yellow' dawn). The story of an intimate relationship between a man and a wild bird, with it's shifts and balances. It's also a celebration of one man's practicality and improvisation, as he makes perches and straps out of everyday materials.

White admits that training the goshawk has deepened his understanding of the frequent hawking references in Shakespeare's plays