First published in 1972, this book is a collection of essays originally published by Kenneth Allsop in The Daily Mail. Well-known in the
The book follows the calendar year, from darkest January to Christmas, finishing on a joyous note, and each month is broken up into shorter essays on a variety of subjects. We learn a good deal about Allsop’s ancient restored mill home, the trout in the millrace, the ungrateful doves who only drop in to eat all the corn, and the changing landscape around it. Changing both with the advance of the year, but also with proximity to the 21st century. Yet while Allsop was an ardent conservationist, and a campaigner until his death, his concern is worn lightly in these pages, which convince without haranguing. His love of birds is ever present, as is his passion for the countryside, and no tiny detail is beneath his notice.
This book is about the pleasure and the occasional affectionately-tolerated inconveniences of country life (he suggests that within 25 years it would be possible to rebuild
The bees aren’t yet fully operational. The sun had prodded an arousing finger down the shrew’s tunnel or through the eiderdown of moss where each had dozed through the frosts [. . .] Above the powdery red cliff which the thrust of the current has gouged into a crescent (and where there is an old kingfisher’s nesting hole – unused, now, for even down here kingfishers are scarce) the bees burnished the air with golden pencillings [. . .] How frail is the thread which sustains them: the few comatose queens nurturing the seed of their kind within their bodies for the long blank months of danger.
Allsop’s troubled life and his uneasy relationship with another of our great nature writers, Henry Williamson – an equally troubled man - are absent from these short pieces, although I think Williamson’s influence shows through the nature writing. And in that sense, this is a slight work, purely an elegy to life in the country, rather than a portrait of its author. But I think I am rather comforted to know that, despite great pain and unhappiness, he found a love of the countryside to be sustaining and a bringer of at least occasional joy. I recommend it as a pleasurable read and an interesting piece of recent country history.
A minor personal sadness is that with this recent re-reading, my 34-year-old paperback copy has fallen apart, and will not be accompanying me on my next trip to the West Country.