All the Devils are Here by David Seabrook

All the devils are Her by David Seabrook

English Non-fiction

Source – personal copy

I said a few posts ago one of my favourite podcasts was Backlist. In the recent break, they played some earlier episodes, one of which was with the writer Rachel Cooke from the Observer, which was around this book by the writer David Seabrook. Seabrook was a crime writer who had written two books before sadly dying too young. He was a writer that looked at the underbelly of people’s lives. In his other book, he wrote about the uncaught serial killer Nick the Stripper, that had killed 8 prostitutes in the sixties; he drew the case and alluded to who he thought was the killer, and then there is this book that seemed to follow him on a number of bus rides from his home in Canterbury to the seaside towns that surround him. But he gets to the dark underbelly of these towns and their past. If you go to any town, spend time in the pubs with the drinkers and look at the dark parts, you’ll enter the world he talks about.

Evenings. Dead-eyed drinkers six deep at the bars, not always alone but often unspeaking, unsmiling – as if the pubs were cider houses and Rochester were Hardy country, far away.

Staccato laughter strafing the Casino Rooms just off the High Street, where audiences are entertained by comedians such as’X-Rated’ Jimmy Jones or Roy Chubby’ Brown, big men who tour England ceaselessly like lardy takes on the Ancient Mariner, bringing none of the poetry and all of the guilt. And finally, down by the station, all the year round, scores of prosti-tutes, some of them very young indeed – and every soul desperate for trade. They hassle locals hurrying home; they go down on drivers waiting for the lights to change; they pound locked cars like gibbons at Longleat. Residents have set up surveillance cameras to monitor the situation but the girls still show every evening at Gundulph Road, New Road and the base of Star Hill and they still take it in all the usual places (including the arm) . Theirs is an indsutry in turmoil, the first sign, on the way to Chatham , tht the sailorsn havre gone for good.

A look at the darker side of life

The book is in three parts. I’ll mainly talk about the first part, which sees David looking into Rochester, the seaside town that Dickens lived in but was another character in the village, an inspiration to Dickens, the writer. Richard Dadd, the painter who killed his father and was sent to the asylum at Broadmoor, inspired Dicken’s  Mystery of Edwin Drood, inspired by Dadd’s time in Rochester. The book is a thinly veiled look at the town of drug addiction and what happens when drugs go too far, as with Dadd. The strange thing is, as I looked back at the book today to review it, There is mention of the green man myth, which is strange as there is a pub. There is a controversial sign that used to have a figure on in the town of Ashbourne where we have just had a weekend away it is odd how these connections happen at times with books and life, The book is his looking at each place and spinning stories around those places the dark side of nature from a gay boxer Freddy Mills or was he ?  and Charles Hawtrey the Carry on the actor, then fascist shadows in the dark past from Lord Hawi- Haaw relative he meets along the way on his days out from Canterbury.

In 1864, the year in which he was transferred to Broadmoor, Dadd handed over the painting to its dedicatee, George Haydon, the steward at Bethlem. In January 1865 Dadd, possibly at Haydon’s request, provided a key of sorts to this picture in a long, digressive poem entitled Elimination of a Picture and Its Subject’. Dadd treks through his cast list, throws in a few scandalous tidbits such as the patriarch’s penchant for clubbing fairies, and ends meanderingly, with an admission of defeat: ‘But whether it be or be not so / You can afford to let this go / For nought as nothing it explains / And nothing from nothing nothing gains. No good, then. But why should he want to ‘eliminate the picture and its subject? Is he making a pun?If it isn’t a pun, what is it?

Dadd and his strange art and his life is looked at .

This is the dark cousin of Sebald’s rings of Saturn. If he had been a drinker and a near do well of writer, this would have been the book This is the World of a Drinker, a man of the pubs of the night dark alleys, dirty toilets and old men. I am so pleased I caught the backlist this was mentioned on, as even before the show had finished, I had ordered the book. I will be getting his other book at some time as this is the sort of book if I was going write, I’d write a book of free-flowing thinking and thoughts, a sort of interlink work that isn’t about anything but is actually just compelling, like staying next to that guy in the pub that has the lowdown on the whole town the secrets hidden this is the sort of sales you hear from taxi drivers late at night.  I often feel Kluge is the master of this sort of book, but this is the top-shelf version of his book. We have seen the dark side of these towns in other books from Brighton Rock or Carver’s dark LA Stories, but this is real life which proves the maxim fact is often stranger than fiction.

The Power and The Glory by Graham Greene

The Power and The Glory by Graham Greene

English fiction

Source – Personal copy

I love when Simon’s and Karen’s six monthly year club as it gives me a chance to read the books that came out that year I hadn’t read and ion this case go back to a book I had read many years ago. I was always a fan of Greene I think I was 11 or 12 when I first came across him, and I think it may have been through a radio version of Our Man in Havana a different book to this one, but that was my intro to his works, and through my early twenties I read a lot of his books. I am not a huge fan of rereading books for me the process of reading the time, and the memories of that reading are like a fly caught in amber that one moment remembered, and one always worries if a book will be as entertaining or grabbing as I remembered this book was.

The lieutenant walked in front of his men with an air of bitter distaste. He might have been chained to them unwill. ingly – perhaps the scar on his jaw was the relic of an escape.

His gaiters were polished, and his pistol-holster: his buttons were all sewn on. He had a sharp crooked nose jutting out of a lean dancer’s face; his neatness gave an effect of inordinate ambition in the shabby city. A sour smell came up to the plaza from the river and the vultures were bedded on the roofs, under the tent of their rough black wings. Sometimes, a little moron head peered out and down and a claw shifted. At nine-thirty exactly all the lights in the plaza went out.

The lieutent a man of polish and belief in his quest

The book came about after Greene had visited Mexico and saw the persecution of the Catholic church at the time was for a non-fiction piece, but he later wrote this novel about a priest on the run. Always unnamed, we follow his journey and see a man with many faults, not the perfect priest. There is a joke about the type of men that go into the priesthood in Ireland, and one of the men that are said to join the priesthood is the drinker. Well, this is a perfect example of a whiskey priest a man that has had a child, and Brigitta his daughter is a strange child that he is drawn to help and loves her. Even thou as she has a look around her. But he is on the run as he is being chased by the Lieutenant a man who has vowed to rid Mexico of the Catholic church. It is the story of two men with beliefs, two sides of the same coin in a way driven to uphold what they believe in but also at polar ends of the spectrum. But who will win will the priest be drawn back because of God?

She said savagely, ‘I know about things. I went to school.

I’m not like these others – ignorant. I know you’re a bad priest. That time we were together – that wasn’t all you’ve done.

I’ve heard things, I can tell you. Do you think God wants you to stay and die – a whisky priest like you?’ He stood patiently in front of her, as he had stood in front of the lieutenant, listening.

He hadn’t known she was capable of all this thought. She said,

“Suppose you die. You’ll be a martyr, won’t you? What kind of a martyr do you think you’ll be? It’s enough to make people mock.?

Then the other side the priest here is him described

Greene is, of course, known for being a catholic novelist, but for me, this has both that and also a sprinkling of what he used to call his entertainment to it. The title is a nod towards the lord’s prayer. This is also where he admitted later in life he found his faith through those pheasants he had seen and the priest that worked underground and was the bases for the priest in this book. It has a pace to it, and I always feel Greene is the master of tension in his writing. He knows how to pitch it just right and he does that so well here as we get drawn to the end and discover what happens to the two main characters in the book. Two men that, as much as they are different, are the same and driven, by belief. As Lucretius said, Such are the heights of wickedness to which men are driven by religion, and in both men, you can see this. Have you read this by Greene, or do you have a favourite book by Greene?

Winston’s score A – The book has stood the test of time and I loved it the more the second time around.

do you like rereading ?

Gardener’s Nightcap by Muriel Stuart

Gardener’s Nightcap by Muriel Stuart

English non fiction

Source – Personal copy

I had one of those days last week when I felt the wind had dropped out of my reading sail. I was caught ion the doldrums of being a reader. This happens from time to time.  I even mentioned it on Twitter I do feel that I need to mix up my reading a little I did last year and enjoyed the nature books I read. Initially, I had wanted to try some different books, and Music books were mentioned I went and got a copy of Fallen(A history of former fall membeRS)  I had brought a while ago only to find the paper and font just terrible so I put it to one side and then remember this something that for me had been an Unusual find I have long like the style and look of Persephone books I have maybe half a dozen of these books I had been a couple of times to there shop when it had been in London. I had missed this book which I think had been out when I visited them several years ago. It is a later work by the Scottish Poet Muriel Stuart. She was described by Hugh MacDarmid as the best female poet of the Scottish renaissance. But in her later years, she took to writing about her other passion Gardening, and this is one of the two books she wrote about  Gardening.


When making a gardening apron, don’t make the usual deep pockets in the front. When kneeling, or squatting as all women gardeners seem to do, these bulging pockets may be extremely painful to one’s front portion!

Set the pockets well to the sides; you may look like a pack mule, but you’ll be far more comfortable. Io prevent the apron sagging forward, attach a narrow clastic to the back of the apron sides, which will keep it in place.

I loved pieces like this and was remind who now would have an apron !

It is hard to describe Nightcap as it is a collection of vignettes about gardening. I will hold my hand up I am no gardener so I am looking at this as maybe an outsider. I did struggle with the Latin Names. What she has is little tips stories and guides around gardens; this is the sort of book I think used to be more popular as a sort of dip in and out of the collection is maybe what it is designed for. I had read it through in one, but with most vignettes being less than a page they tend to drift over after you finish from what makes a garden apron, how to plant certain plants which plants are suited for this and that. I will with my new garden maybe be dipping in and out with things like the ideal tree for a small garden and how to plant other things.


Although I am not particularly fond of yellow flowers, I find yellow roses always the most attractive of their tribe.Mermaid, the yellow climbing rose, is one of the most beautiful, and is, I confess, one of the few roses I have ever bought. Having bought it and planted it in an impossible situation, I moved it, in sheer shame, to the sunny side of a lych gate. There, outraged in some way, the whole length of her died, and I cut it down to within a foot of the ground, never expecting to see her again! But she needed this major operation, apparently, for she made great to-do, and began to climb most busily up the lych gate, spreading along the roof. There she finally burst forth into a galaxy of pure sulphur yellow single flowers, five inches across, with fringed amber eyes, set among varnished bronze leaves, keeping up the display from June to the last days of November.

I remember vibrant yellow roses in My Granddads garden.

I love Persephone books their books are always so smart looking with the grey covers and the endpaper. These are suitable gardens connected to a linen print on them. As I say I am no gardener, but this new house has a small garden which is a clean slate, so hopefully, I can plat some pots. As I said I will be dipping in and out of this and I think that is what it was intended as a collection of pieces of advice. I was reminded of my Grandfather, a keen gardener. He loved roses mentioned a few times in the book and had a patchwork garden of planting when I was little. I think if you are a keen gardener or know a keen gardener this will appeal to them. Strangely, there was just an article about what has happened to that middle age thing of becoming a gardener I know it has [assed me by until now. You can see the poet in her writing as well. Have you read this? Have you a favourite Persephone book? Have you been to their new shop in Bath?

Winstons score – +B a lovely old collection of gardening vignettes that stand the test of time.

A high Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes

A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes

English fiction

Source – Personal copy

I always have a look on my shelves when the club year is announced and this was a book I already owned so it saved me from ordering another book and it is one I had long wanted to read, I think I may have seen the film when I was younger. Richard Hughes was a journalist and writer he wrote four novels I have another by him Fox in the attic. He was friends with Dylan Thomas who stayed with him. This book has been described as an inspiration for William Goldings Lord of the flies. Supposedly at the time, Hughes wrote the book he hadn’t visited Jamaica. But it is only featured in the first part of the book most of the action is on the sea.

The passage from Montego Bay to the Caymans, where the children had written their letters, is only a matter of few hours: indeed, in clear weather one can look right across from Jamaica to the peak of Tarquinio in Cuba.

There is no harbour; and the anchorage, owing to the reefs and ledges, is difficult. The Clorinda brought up off the Grand Cayman, the look-out man in the chains feeling his way to a white, sandy patch of the bottom which affords the only safe resting-place there, and causing the anchor to be let go to windward of it. Luckily,, the weather was fine.

The island, a longish one at the western end of the group, is low, and covered with palms. Presently a succession of boats brought out a quantity of turtles, as Emily described.

The natives also brought parrots to sell to the sailors: but failed to dispose of many.

The opening of the third chapter is as they set off on the first boat.

The book follows the aftermath of the Hurricane on an English Family in Jamaica whose property is destroyed by the storm. Which leaves the parents of the Bas-Thornton children to take the decision. It would be better to send their five children homeland in England. The children have very few memories of England and are sent with two creole children with them. They head to the port town Montego bay and on to a ship, the Clorinda with its captain Maypole the ship has barely set off when the ship is taken over by Pirates initially thaty seem to wan the cargo but then are looking for a safe they seize the children ( John, Emily, Edward, Rachel and Edward with the two creole Margaret and Harry.) and use them as leverage to get to know where the safe is on the ship. The chain of events that follows means the children end up with the pirates and the Captain Maypole of the ship Clorinda they were on writes to tell the parents the loss of the children rather than dying initially the pirates aren’t to bother with the kids but the chef and a couple of them befriend and the captain of the pirate ship takes a liking to Young Emily another has relations with another pirate as with the shackles of parental control the kids start to go rogue and act like the pirates, in fact, they maybe are worse than them. What will happen will they get home will they all get there alive what happens to them on that ship.

The children all slept late, and all woke at the same moment as if by clockwork. They sat up, and yawned uniformly, and stretched the stiffiness out of their legs and backs (they were lying on solid wood, remember).

The schooner was steady, and people tramping about the deck. The main-hold and fore-hold were all one: and from Where they were they could see the main-hatch had been opened. The captain appeared through it legs first, and dropped onto the higgledy-piggledy of the Clorinda’s cargo.

For some time they simply stared at him. He looked uneasy, and was talking to himself as he tapped now this Case with his pencil, now that; and presently shouted rather fiercely to people on deck.

And by the next chapter they awake to being on the pirate ship and what happens there.

I must admit I was one of those kids that never got into pirates which are maybe why I had never gotten to this book. But I was pleased the 1929 club gave me the nudge to read this book.I can see the connection to the lord of the flies and the way the children act once they are with the pirates.  This book maybe captures the last age of the pirates as it seems it is just as sailboats are making way for mechanical ships.I looked up to see if there had been cases of kids as pirates there were some kids in the 70s that were shipwrecked like the lord of the flies but they didn’t go like they did. I wonder if he had read an article about some kids taken by pirates as one of his other books In Hazard came from a news story. I’m sure there were children taken and became or were used by the pirates. It deals with the idea of what happens when there are no boundaries and no consequences for your actions on the young Bas Thorton children. He captures the darker side of childhood the book has a gothic feel at times in someways the writing reminds me of a couple of Daphne Du Maurier books I have read it maybe influenced her I feel he maybe was a Stevenson fan it is a darker cousin of Treasure island it also maybe has a nod to the books of Conrad another great writer of a ship bound fiction he captures that confined feeling of being on a ship on top of one another and how that makes people feel his trilogy of books set on the sea is set around the same time as both steamboats and sail ship share the high seas. Have you read this book or have you a favourite book set on the sea Pirate or otherwise?

The Heeding by Rob Cowen


Orgin: Middle English Heden, Old English hedan, Old Saxon Hadian


  1. To mind, to regard, to take note of, to attend to; to observe.
  2. to pay attention, care
  3. To guard, protect


  1. Paying particular notice or careful attention tp advice or warning.

The Heeding is another of the longlist books for the Wainwright prize and is the second book of Poetry I have reviewed in the 13 years of doing this blog, it isn’t that I don’t like poetry but maybe I don’t sit and dole I had here and read Rob Cowen collection. He is a poet based in North Yorkshire, which I passed through quickly yesterday on my way up to the Northumberland where we are on Holiday and when I arrived I sat and read this collection of 35 poems that followed a year like another book win the collection it was written during the lockdown year and sees row Observations of this unique year and how it changed the world for tat one moment of time and both Nature and also the Nature of people. The book is also accompanied by a wonderful collection of bold and eye-catching illustrations from  Nick Hayes.


Indigo sky pressing down like debt.

All cars quietened; nothing stirs.

Late spring status, abandoned, wrecked.

Hell of a thing to be afraid of air

Of touch of family. Of friends. Of work

To not leave home for four days straight.

This is the opening verse of Noise off

I’m never overly sure how to describe a collection of poems but in this one, I just decided I would mention a few of the poems and how I as a reader connected to them. First is the second poem which is called Noises off and is about the new silence of Lockdown we all remember the clarity of sound we all got during the day when there is no cars, no planes in the sky factories are silent the world but also a world of new fears and worries is as it once captured here b Rob and his words far better than I can. Then we have starling which is an ode to that little coal-black bird ( which seemed apt as I am staying in a former colliery village at the moment) this described maybe seeing afresh this little bird which is yes noisy and often in loud groups but when you actually look at this little bird it is so beautiful with as Rob puts it the iridescent purples, greens and blues, the rare hues of petrol on water when describing its feathers. I loved those images and yes they are as soon as I read those words I saw them I was also reminded that I want to see the murmurations (the patterns in a flight of starling of which a large roost near to me is meant to be a place to see this wonder of nature.

We forget that you one shimmered through the frozen air; ripple bird.

Shape-shifter, dusk dancer. Murmurer, sh=ky writer,

Endlessly becoming in the darkening Gold;

Animals, patterns, waves.

And how e wonderstruck, witnessed a nightly unity against death

The second verse of the poem starling mentions their flight of them in groups and the patterns and shapes they make which is so eye-catching and one of the true wonders of Nature.

Well I just mentioned two from this collection in depth the collection is bookended with two poems called the duel about hawks hunting and Hawks reoccur in another Poem that I loved about seeing them in flight whilst driving and Like Rob how often does this happen on a motorway I always nearly crash and often think which bird it was I know Kestrels well as I have seen so many of the years but as for other hawks and how to know which is which glimpsed against the sky I am never quite sure. He also shows how he was touched by ovoid from his personal experience to that off the loss of those around him near and also faces in a crowd like a man at his allotment. Rob captures those mad twelve months in these 35 poems with a poet’s eye that ability t see beyond to describe and in a time like that is what is needed in a time of Madness and the uncertain nature of the world we need a poet to be are guide to cross the river of covid to make sense of the currents and eddies of that river to show us what we missed those little moments in that time like a collection of items which ties into the start of the book which sees Rob describe his desktop and the collection of items he has a stone, musket ball an otter print. Well, this is his desktop of that year his collection of items picked up along that year. Do you think poets can be beacons in dark times to guide the world around us?

Winstons score – + A, a stunning collection that captures in Amber a once-in-a-lifetime year of wonder and fear.



12 Birds to save your life by Charlie Corbett


12 Birds to save your life by Charlie Corbett

British Nature writing

Source – Library book

I take another step along the path of the Wainwright longlist books. It is strange I picked a book last month of my Trio of books that I had enjoyed was a memoir about grief this is another book around Grief. Charlie Corbett is a writer and a farmer that has spent his time between the Wessex Downs and Isle of Mull( you couldn’t get two places further apart in the Uk.he lives with his wife on the downs with his sons and a field full of skylarks which is one of the 12 birds of the book where he uses his love of birds and mixes into a memoir of Birds and the death and how his family coped when their Mother died and how birds have been viewed through time and he mixes them up this is his life in a hard time.

Peewits (otherwise known as lapwings or green plovers) are, in fact, a bird of the coast – a wader – but they breed up on hills during the spring and summer. And if you scan the sky in February, you might see great flocks of peewits circling up above looking for suitable places to nest. I almost drove off the side of the motorway when I saw such a sight not that long ago (once you develop a love for birds, almost crashing cars will become a common occurrence, I’m afraid)

I used to see these on a drive between towns growing up a bird we see a lot less of these days.

The book uses twelve birds native to the UK, which are common bar two of them which are harder to see the sections combine Charlie’s family life at what is one of the hardest times in people’s lives and that is the loss of a parent the effect on the wider family and how the sight of the birds and connections about myths and legends around the birds and how they have seen them over time. He also has a comic touch to describe some birds and their wider family-like calling a Jackdaw like the Danny deviate of the crow world. Then at the end of each section a guide to how to see each bird and how common they are and also it highlights how some birds over time have drastically declined those so common and still common mare getting less so like the little sparrow. It shows how we have to feed and make sure our gardens make birds welcome.

And if Danny DeVito had an extrovert cousin who liked to dress in Paris clothes, then that would be the Jay. The Jay is another characterful member of the Corvid clan. Though instead of the usual sombre black ensemble, the Jay sports a pink suit, bright white shirt with dazzling electric blue wingtips and a snappy black moustache under the beak. You’ll certainly hear a jay before you see one(its Latin name is Garrulous Glandarius). If you are walking through woodland, your ears will be assaulted by a shattering shriek, just as you remark to your walking companion, ” What the hell was that bloody awful noise?”, you’ll see this pinky-blue-white blur fly past with a kind of lazy undulation lollo. Yet despite its shouty call and garish costumes, the jay is, in fact, really rather a shy creature.It lives in woodland and really ventures out.

I loved this description of a jay in the section about Magpies.

I loved this as many of you know I love books that connect objects to things to memories it has always been something that has driven me as a reward this was one of the books that really jumped out at me of the Wainwright longlist. especially as I have always had a love of birds but also the myths and legends around birds which is something I have always loved. I often look for a robin when a bird is meant to be the soul visiting you at my mum’s grave site. They are one of the birds Charlie talks about. Then he talks about Kingfisher a bird I had on my wall as a kid one of the birds I love to see as you only ever see a brilliant blue flash as they so often disappear so quickly. He also has anBarn Owl which made me think of My work Owl there is a Tawny owl I have seen a few times it sites of a post at the back of work and I see it there and think I have seen a couple of things it has killed on the gardens at work. I think it is great as the first time I saw it a patient showed it me it made their day, especially showing me. Have you a favourite book that deals with Grief and its effect on a family?

Winstons score – B solid book around birds and grief and how they enter our lives their but sometimes we notice them more.

Goshawk Summer by James Aldred

Goshawk Summer by James Alfred

English Nature writing

Source – Personal copy

I decide to have this break and read some Nature writing which happened to be exactly the same time as we got the Wainwright Nature writing longlist for 2022. So I then decided to get all the books which I was so lucky to have found most of them on the Library system so Had to order to collect most of them as they are coming from all over Derbyshire. I am going today ( well actually yesterday !! as I wrote this yesterday) to pick up the first lot of books. But the two books I couldn’t get I ordered and they arrived before the weekend so I managed to squeeze in this book over the weekend James Aldred is an Award-winning wildlife documentary maker. He had just finished one project in Africa when he was hired to film some Goshawks in the New forest this is around the time of the first lockdowns in the Uk and he is able to go to the forest every day and to film the Goshawks during a summer that is like no other that has been for many a year and maybe won’t happen again. SO we see his observations of the forest and Goshawks.

Friday 10 April

The country’s been in lockdown for two weeks. I take our three boys into the empty landscape of the valley opposite for some decompression. They’ve been bouncing off the walls at home and it’s good to feel the stride of open ground. They bring their bows and shoot arrows high into the sky above the wide rhyme-locked levels. It’s a good way to let off steam for an hour or so. crossing one of the many small bridges. I glance down to see the five-toed pads of a dog otter imprinted in the soft mud.

I loved as he takes the kids out which many parents did he still sees the nature around him.

He has just returned to the Uk as we see Lockdown is happening and has just been given the job to sit in a Hide to film over the summer. In the New forest. We see as he travels back and forth to film in a world that is now quiet and how strange it is with nothing around that is usually the traffic on the roads, Planes in the sky all have vanished overnight and a new world of silence and quiet. As he settles deep in the forest in his Hide says how much he likes being in a hide hidden and watching whatever he is there to film. He grew up in the New Forest and is amazed when he sees the car parks fill as everyone went back into nature as he heads into the hide and watches this Family of Goshawks sit on the Eggs and then as the chick grows(there is an insight into how they choose which chick lives) we see the environment the bio system of the world of the Goshawks the world of the forest the squirrels which is the main diet of the Goshawks, other birds he sees he compares the other Raptures and places The Goshawks alongside them and how it all interconnects. All this is against the backdrop of the Pandemic and lockdown. I hope to capture the film he made of this Goshawk pair and the New forest in this time which is a time we may never see again.

Friday 8 may

A dry start. The forest leaves hang with mist, but the sky is clear and the 4 a.m. journey to goshawks is sublime. The full moon hangs huge and heavy above dark spires of conifer- a Spielberg backdrop in need of a flying silhouette. The road through Whitemoor glade is a bright bridge of silver and I turn of my lights to follow, rolling slowly forward as the trees eventually rise up to swallow the moon. As I re-enter the darkness a tawny owl is perched on a sign next to the road. It ignores me and remains poised with head tilted forward, listening to something in the leaf litter. I switch off the engine in their hope of watching it hunt, but it seems to notice me for the first time and flies off into the shadows.

his early morning walk to the hide deep in the woods.

I do wonder if in years to come we will get a series of books that will be described as Covoid lit or lockdown Lit. This time saw the best and worst of people but also as we see in James’s eyes it gave nature a small window away from the chaos of the world and  Pollution lessen as the cars on the road stop, I remember the driving to work myself in this time when some days I wouldn’t see a single car and also it was amazing hearing and see birds more than before. He captures this Goshawk couple in an extraordinary time this is a story of them but also has the reflections of the year which for James himself was a sad year With the loss of his father. I enjoyed the insight into a bird I haven’t seen it made me want to see a Goshawk at some point. Do you think there will be a section around ovoid and Lockdown in years to come or is it too early to tell? This was the first book I have read from this year’s Wainwright nature writing longlist.

Winston’s score – B a man in the woods captures a year like no other.

The Military Orchid by Joceyln Brooke

The Military Orchid by Jocelyn Brooke

English Nature writing

Source – personal copy

Well, I read Copsford last week and was bowled over by it and love the actual book itself it was a nicely presented work from the publisher Little Toller which until I brought that book I had never heard of so I went and had a look at there backlist of Nature writing classics and I choose two more to read and this is the first of those two books I selected Orchid Military which is the first of a trilogy by the English Writer Jocelyn  Brooke He was one of those old English characters he was in the military and had run away as a kid and then dropped out of Oxford before he joined the military in the medieval core this is also where he started to write and also discover the Orchid of the title of the book and also sent him what would be a google rabbit hole but then was discovering book after book and a journey of finding Orchids and the hunt for that one mystery Orchid.

Poor colonel Mackenzies! His book was not the best of introductions to its subject. Yet he was a true ochidomane, and I salute him across the years. I imagine him living in comfortable retirement in Surrey, in a red house with a drive and spiky gates, among pine trees; pottering on the downs above Betchworth and Shere but not often venturing further afield. Probably he did possess a copy of Bentham and Hooker, but he could have seldom have looked at it. It is a pleasing thought that another retired officer, colonel Godfrey, has written the standard Monograph on the British Orchidaceae (He also lives in Surrey)

His intro was the Colonel’s book on Orchids

The book opens as we see via a Mr Bundock how the young Jocelyn was drawn into Orchid and the first orchid he discovered was the Lizard Orchid this is the time he got one of the first of many books about the Orchids of Britain this was the colonel Mackenzie Orchids of Britain that was an example of a book that was written by the amateur nature writer. . But this book is where he discovers the Military Orchid ( `orchis Militaris). Which is the one orchid we see him hunting to discover if this very rare orchid is even confirmed as the book unwinds we Follow Jocelyn in the English countryside where we meet a cast of characters that are from a bygone age where the countryside is a mixture of snobs and those old country figures ( this remind me of living in Northumberland in my teens and the characters I used to pick up for my job in a day centre which had a number of character that reminds me of those that Jocelyn crossed. He also spends time abroad in his army career this is a mix of his military life and his growing love of Nature and Orchids as he gets more and more Orchid. books and he tells us about the writers on the whole a collection of amateurs like himself. We see if Evers gets to find this orchid and if it is even real.

Les seuls Vrais Paraadis, said Proust, sont les paradis qu’on la perdus: and conversely, the only genuine infernos, perhaps, are those which are yet to come. After the post-Munch period, with its atmosphere of slowly gathering crisis, the outbreak of war itself was like a sudden Holiday, bringing a sense of release, almost of relief: the kind of relief which an invalid feels when a definite disease has declared itself, replacing the vague, indefinable mails by a set of recognisable physical symptoms

I love this Proust quote(a little jealous I never got past the first books of Proust)

This was just what I need it is one of those books that is written by someone with a passion for their subject which for Brooke is Orchids alongside his growing up and witnessing Both wars and the inter war years and his Military career and home life. He mixes a comical view of the time of the world around him. Add to this is the wonderful Orchid pictures we get that illustrate a lot of the plants that we have read about. This is a mix of styles Memoir, Satire and military history during and after world wars it is also a quest work his ask is the Military Orchid you can see as the years go by and he hasn’t seen this rarely record Orchid does it even exist. It has a bit of Waugh, a bit of Edith Holden and added to that is his Quest it is a sort of Holy grail search for his beloved Orchid.He wrote a number of other books after this book, I will be looking out for the other two books in this collection of the collected trilogy as the other two books are meant to be as good as this one is. Have you read any books by Brooke? do you like memoirs that combine a love of Nature?


Winstons score – A two wars and the inter war years are a hunt for a mythical Orchid. Sees a man grow and discover a passion.

Copsford by Walter J. C. Murray

Copsford by Walter J. C. Murray

British Nature writing

Source – personal copy

I have decided a couple of years ago that every time I go and put flowers and visit where we scattered my mum’s ash which is about an hours drive from where I live in Derbyshire .I would by some nature writing my Mom and my Granddad who are also scattered on the same site in Macclesfield in Cheshire with were great nature lovers my granddad had a love of birds and birdwatching he paid for my old YOC membership growing up (the youth section of the (RSPB). So there is a mid-size Waterstones there which is slightly big than the one we have here so I went to the nature section and had a look round and actually had another book in my hand when this one caught my eye with its Black white cover which by the sheer tone of the photo you could tell it was an old print. The book was written by Walter Murray he was from Sussex and had been living in London in a third-floor flat when he decided he want to do a Thoreau (as in Walden) and he decide to return to Sussex and rent a heap the hep on the cover a cottage called cops ford and try and make a living of the land grow and drying herbs and making a simpler life.He had a lifelong love of nature and took photos of Nature the photos in this book are from the original book when it came out in 1948( The Copsford year was in the 20s though)

“No one ain’t lived in Copsford for more ‘an twenty year’ he protested “Its do be out of repair like’

“You’m best go an’ ; ave a look around first,’ he suggested. Then returning to the familiar rut, ‘Ice going ‘ ploughin’ in the ten-acre.’

He readjusted his hat and began to harness his two horses. He was happy again, so I set off across the field to inspect Copsford, this cottage “sech a mile from nowhere” where no one wanted to live.

He goes to look at cops ford after the farmer warns how it is derelict.

I am drawn to the idea of living away from it all one of the things I want to do in the future is go back to Northumberland and live in a small village. So the book opens when he decides to leave his third floor flat and his life in London and with his Dog floss his sheepdog. The farmer iS taken back when he asks if he can take on Copsford the cottage had been empty for decades and was broken down as you can see ion the cover also it is full of rats. So the opening few chapters we see him first trying to get at least one room liveable as he then tries to get rid of the rats from the property all this as he is having to fetch water and live by candlelight as he also reconnects with his childhood sweetheart a music teacher, this is about the time in the mid-twenties when Murray became a teacher and eventually a headmaster at his own school. What fools is his upon and downs as he Lears to live on the land and also at the end chapter sees him comparing what he made to how he lived in London to the money earned for rent and living costs in Copsford.

If the herb is taken too late from the drying-room, and this quite frequently happens when a spell of dry weather suddenly succeeds a long damp, blowdrying period, the plant is so brittle that it crumbles to dust. The rosette of pale green leaves of cleavers is so slight that there is always some loss of herb at the bagging-up time, but that is better than mould. Other herbs, if allowed to become to dry, just cannot be handled; they smash and crumble and fall away into useless fragments, Others again – a few – one never seems to be able to dry enough; they always feel moist or oily to the touch, no matter how many days they hang on the line

He learns how to dry the herbs he is wanting to harvest dry and sell



I said in the intro I called this a Thoreau he did similar when he went to live next to Walden lake it was a way to escape the pressure of the present and this is similar he just wants to capture the countryside and live on the land with his dog Floss and he does what he does is also start to notice the seasons and the world around him as he struggles to collect and work at his plan to gather and forage for Herbs to dry and sell. Then there is also the budding romance between him and his childhood sweetheart who lives near Copsford. The cottage itself becomes a character in the book, even more, when he decides to stay in the winter as he said it was the last gift it gave him. This book is timely there seems to be a movement toward a simple life post-Lockdown people have reconnected with nature and want a simpler life it’s strange that the Similar events in the 70s with strikes and cost of living crisis lead to the likes of the Good Life. I think we all love a bit of the countryside I know I love the mix of that and going to the city or a large town. This was republished just before the lockdown and maybe should be read if you like a year of nature-type books or want to see how the simpler life was never to simple even 100 years ago. Maybe it is the prototype Cottagecore book if you want to be present and live in the moment and be sustainable this is the book for you. Also, it has his wonderfully evocative pictures to bring to life the text and the year he spent there. Have you a favourite back-to-nature book?

Winstons score – +A just loved slipping into his year in copsford.


The young pretender by Michael Arditti

The young pretender by Michael Arditti

English historical fiction

Source – review copy

It was nice to be sent a new book from arcadia books which was a publisher I had reviewed books over the years and had sadly after its founder Gary’s death nearly vanished to it has been taken as an imprint by Quercus. I don’t read many historical fiction books but this one appealed as it has a number of themes I like people trying to make a come back. I also like the thought of the way actors travelled back in the day with touring companies crossing the country. it reminded me it has been a number of years since I last went to the theatre to see something. The book follows the comeback of the child actor Master Betty as he returned to the stage at the age of 20 after he was lauded at the age of 13 and was called the infant Garrick. But after a scandal, he disappears and now a man is trying to return.

It is not yet nine months since he died, so I realise that my sentiments may be coloured by my loss, but I doubt that even at the height of my fame,Papa was proud of me. He may been proud that others were proud of me, but that’s not the same. Poets Lauded me as Albion’s favourite snout, if I were his it was only because I lacked brother. Even when dukes and duchesses crowded my dressing room, he railed that he had exchanged the honourable life of a gentleman for that of a fair-keeper

After his father’s death, he looks back at his father the line about a brother touched me so sad!!

Netty had been on the boards since he was little and had played a lot of the major roles in Shakespeare plays and when he was Hamlet at Covent garden William Pitt had let parliament go early so they could go and watch him. We meet him as now a young man who is trying to regain fame but he also maybe wants to be seen as a man, not the boy that left the stage 6 years earlier now a taller fat man is trying to reclaim what he once was for himself not for his father. What we see in the theatre world in regency times where plays just happened here and then the actors don’t have much time to learn the plays and the world just seems very chaotic at times and unprofessional. We see as we follow him how the young boy was taught the stage trade by another actor Mr Hough when he was a boy. But this was what would now be called grooming in the way it happened and the abuse the young boy suffered. but when we see him remember his former glory the bad bits tend to be rosier and you get the sense of the horrors he saw as a child.

I think that Papa met him at the race. There was a course at Downpatrick, which he frequented, especially after the factory closed. It was his habit to bring people Springhill- people who in the old days… no matter! Mr Hough was there with several players from Belfast. Papa invited them to dine with us on their way back to the city. After showing his cups – she a=glances at the cabinet in which the fencing trophies of Papa’s youth are proudly displayed – “He must have remarked that he has a son with a zeal for drama, at which the players, knowing what was required them, called on you to recite, I sought to prevent it -”


How Mr Hough his teacher which came to teach but also abused the young actor as well

I loved the way we saw Betty trying to relaunch himself to be taken seriously but most of those around him still view him as the young boy he was many years ago. I loved the way he described his career and how he had been here there and everywhere as a  young boy, but then you think how his father maybe used his fame and overworked also such a young boy in an adult world wasn’t ever great for the young Betty and we see how the scars wear on the young man. This is a story that has echoes with the present with the ME too mob=vement and we think of things like how so many child actors I grew up watching went off the rails and suffered due to pressure of fame at a young age.  Arditti conjures up those actors going here and there chasing the jobs and performance in regency Britain so well the description of his fame at the time he conjures up the chaos behind the stage around the country and a time when going to see a play was the most important entertain for most in the country. Have you a favourite historic novel set in Regency times. Any other books around this time?

Winstons score – B a book that shows metoo has always been there and the follies of being a child star

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June 2023


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