The Fight For Beauty: Our Path to a Better Future
Author: Fiona Reynolds
Few people are better qualified to write the history of the century-old fight to protect the British countryside and point the way to its future than Fiona Reynolds. Starting as the livewire general secretary of the Council (now Campaign) for National Parks she went on to become director of the Council (again now Campaign) for the Protection of Rural England, and latterly director-general of the National Trust for a decade. In every case, she was the first female leader of these important conservation charities, and in every case, her passionate yet diplomatic leadership gave them fresh impetus and injected a new campaigning zeal.
Reynolds argues in this passionate polemic that a clear-sighted commitment to protect beauty has been lost, often with the collateral casualty of beauty itself, in the modern newspeak of phrases like 'biodiversity' and 'sustainable development'.
She points out it is hard to find the word 'beauty' in any official document. Yet she says that intangible, indefinable concept is more capable of lifting our spirits, touching our deep-lying emotions and is more meaningful to us than almost anything else in life.
After tracing the history of the conservation movement through pioneers such as John Ruskin and Octavia Hill, Reynolds ends with the claim that modern bureaucratic officialdom seems to have abandoned the elusive idea of beauty, and she concludes that the most important thing is to give our children access to beauty, to enhance their lives and hopefully spark a desire to pass it on to future generations.
Reviewer: Roly Smith
Walking with Plato: A Philosophical Route Through the British Isles
Author: Gary Hayden
Walking With Plato chronicles philosophy buff and self-confessed ‘reluctant walker’ Gary Hayden’s trek from John O’Groats to Land’s End with his partner, Wendy. Initially Gary sets out for Wendy’s sake and the exercise, and is beset early on with blisters, bad weather, midges and boredom. However as the walk progresses he finds a renewed sense of purpose and an appreciation for life’s simple pleasures.
I approached the book with some trepidation, expecting a tough read. I was pleasantly surprised to find a warm, engaging page-turner that still delivers on the profundity promised in the title.
Hayden links his experiences within the writings of thinkers such as Epicurus, Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard and Rousseau. Their contemplations contrasts well with Hayden’s lively style, and descriptions of Britain’s National Trails provide an excellent springboard for philosophical discussions on happiness, beauty and meaning. There’s plenty of humour, too, and I laughed at Gary and Wendy’s frantic attempts to get dog muck off his boots in order to get to a friend’s house in time.
The book also observes the important interplay between hiking and thinking - many of the great philosophers were avid walkers - and stresses the importance of connecting with nature and experiencing what Greek scholar Longinus called, ‘The Sublime’.
In Walking With Plato, the reader accompanies the author on a quest with all its associated hardships and joys and, at the end, experiences a satisfying sense of perspective on all that has passed. Like Gary at the conclusion of his trip, I was sad that the journey was over.
OneWorld Publications, £12.99
The Camper Van Bible
Author: Martin Dorey
This is a cheery and enormously informative account of the pinnacles and pitfalls of owning a campervan. Surfer and campervan-man Martin Dorey has undertaken all the leg work and presents his expert findings in a substantial tome that’s suitably sized for a campervan glovebox. Conveyed in a lively, clear and entertaining tone, this is also reassuringly honest. Dorey weighs up costs of vintage VW versus a modern one, including maintenance costs, breaking it down to an average nightly sum based on his usage. It’s eye-opening for those who think a camper may save you money on getting outdoors. But even the higher-than-expected costs can’t detract from a lifestyle that looks blissful and ideal for summer adventures.
Reviewer: Maria Hodson
ISBN: 978 1472926562
Narrowboat Life: Discover Life Afloat on the Inland Waterways
Author: Jim Batty
A colourful and comprehensive account of life on the waterways. Practical, pretty and accessible, it’s charmingly designed while providing excellent advice on how to avoid some of the trickier aspects of floating life. From how to fit all your belongings into a small space, to costs of living on a liveaboard, this is an attractive, hands-on guide to a romantic way of life. For those curious about the option of residing on a boat, this is an excellent starting point.
Reviewer: Maria Hodson
PBK Original, £18.99
ISBN: 978 1472927101
Under the Tump: Sketches of Real Life on the Welsh Borders
Author: Oliver Blach
After living in London and Buenos Aires, British journalist Oliver Balch and his family move to the Welsh Marches, to the village of Clyro near Hay-on-Wye, to make their new home. With Victorian diarist-of-the-bucolic Reverend Francis Kilvert as guide and companion, Balch immerses himself in his new rural life, seeking to understand the community at the same time as he tries earnestly and openly to become part of it. Under the Tump is both the product of this endeavour and a record of it, through which Balch casts a gentle light on modern rural life, on the eccentric and contradictory town of Hay and its inhabitants, and on the nature of community and belonging.
After establishing the premise – Balch and his wife want to live in “a genuinely enmeshed community” and hope that this is it – each chapter focuses on a particular group the author encounters, dealing first with the 'locals' and then the 'incomers'. Balch switches deftly between roles as novice and student, social ingénu and sociologist, managing to maintain a charming vulnerability and sensitivity to his subject without slipping into romanticism or condescension. Like the gracefully sedate Wye river that flows through his new home in the borders, Balch’s story meanders through the surprisingly heterogeneous landscape he finds there, encountering young farmers, old widows, hippies, mayors, and a king and his courtiers. The journey is gentle and discursive; Balch a genial host with an ear for dialogue and knack for character. And yet, though it makes for a pleasurable diversion, Under the Tump never gathers enough emotional steam or analytical momentum to become a compelling read.
Reviewer: Josh Barry
Faber & Faber, £14.99
ISBN: 978 0571311958
The Den Book
Author: Jo Schofield and Fiona Danks
Who doesn’t love a den? Kids certainly do, and even adults crave a hideaway of some sort (hence men and their sheds). This book provides children with tips about how to create their dream outdoor dens – including woodland hideouts, garden tepees, cardboard castles, fairy tents and igloos – along with great ideas for crafts, games and feasts when camping out. It’s guaranteed to get kids' imaginations running wild.
Frances Lincoln Publishers, £12.99
The Aviary: Bird Portraits to Colour
If you love birds and you’re keen to unwind with a little colouring, this hits the spot – a series of bird portraits for happy scribblers to colour in to their hearts’ content. The avian characters include the Atlantic puffin, barn swallow, mallard duck, swan and blue jay, as well as many more exotic individuals, such as the red-billed toucan and greater flamingo.
Michael O Mara Books, £9.99
Love Madness Fishing
Author: Dexter Petchley
Dexter Petchley’s 1970s childhood in Kent was one of colourful village characters, less colourful council houses, and fishing – often in places he shouldn’t. It kept him, he says, “on the right side of boredom and hoodlum”. It was a time ruled by fishing season, of “Sunday school and harvest festival, Guy Fawkes and conker championships.” Also of catching a fish, stuffing it with a firework, and throwing it back to watch it explode. Kids, eh?
Fishing consumes him until a Grammar School girl in bellbottoms breaks the spell. It’s replaced by poetry and love, until it all falls apart. The setting up of the tackle, the silence of the water, waiting for a bite – these help him survive a broken heart, a breakdown, and a slightly unnecessary detour to Uganda in the 1980s.
His Beano-like escapades are almost endearing in a 12-year-old, but less so in the adult Petchley. He’s not as funny as he thinks he is; terms like ‘slut’, ‘old bidies’ and ‘spinster’ are bandied about as if the 70s never ended. At 20 he checked into an asylum to avoid living with his parents or getting a job. Yet there is much to like, too: a lost way of life, when kids ran wild and could catch the bus for tuppence, and he adeptly distils his self-loathing during that “inter-war period” between childhood and adulthood, before your past becomes nostalgia. But his descriptions of rods and reels get a bit tiresome for a non-fisherwoman. You don’t have to be an angler to enjoy this book – but it probably helps.
Reviewer: Rachael Stiles
Little Toller, £15
ISBN: 978 19082133440
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