Squashed gothic churches, beheaded saints, mysterious alleyways and a preponderance of dustbins.
It doesn’t take much to make a familiar place unfamiliar. A change in the weather – rain, bright sunshine, or more dramatically, snowfall or fog can all do it. Smells too – who hasn’t found themselves aware of sniffing more consciously than normal when drains are blocked, or there’s a whiff of barbecue, bonfire or worse in the air?
And then of course there are a place’s distinctive sounds.
At the inaugural Balham Literary Festival, a gathering of Nature Writers, Landscape Writers and Writer writers came together to discuss the state of the natural world. Here’s my report on what I saw and heard.
Let’s say I was there.
In a hotel near three reservoirs for Wigan.
Let’s say I slipped out back on an unexpected walk,
on a circular path…
Norwood is yawning but awake: shopping, grabbing coffee, heading for breakfast, haircuts, workouts, dates. Watching Saturday unfold beyond the cemetery gates, it’s a little difficult to picture a time when almost none of this was there.
In 1837 London was growing rapidly and expanding at the edges. The city had an urgent need for space and not just for its living. Traditional city centre churchyards and dissenters’ burial grounds were full to bursting – the metropolitan dead also needed somewhere to go.
Brandon Hill aside, other hills in the city have their own distinctively languid charm and grace, such as Park Street, while a few are simply brutes.
One of these is the short and abrupt St Michael’s Hill, stretching from Upper Maudlin Street to Cotham. The lower slopes are dotted with attractive iron street furniture, step-work and historic buildings – including the pretty Colston Alms Houses – but don’t let these architectural gewgaws deceive you – it’s a bastard.
From the blurb on my copy of H is for Hawk it was pretty clear that the book was about Helen Macdonald and Goshawks and TH White and grief. I didn’t mistake the book for the Observer’s Book of Goshawks and feel outraged by all the snot and tears.
I read it and loved it. Only then, did I discover that there are, apparently, very strict rules, about how Nature Writing should be done…