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Red Rag to a Bull

Jamie Black­ett (Quiller, £20)

De­ploy­ing from a he­li­copter in north­ern ire­land, the au­thor, then a sol­dier, felt gal­loway call­ing to him. He’d grown up there and, in 2000, had his chance to run the fam­ily es­tate. The big house of his child­hood had been sold, so he and his fam­ily moved into the 1930s dower house by the shore. This book is a re­flec­tion, by turns poetic and gritty, on two decades of life at what Jamie Black­ett calls ‘the silage-pit face’.

We fol­low his largely un­com­plain­ing jour­ney from blocked sep­tic tank to Sher­iff’s Court (as he suc­ceeds in evict­ing some odi­ous and mal­odor­ous ten­ants), notic­ing the ‘Sap­phic de­sire’ of his Lu­ing cows as na­ture pre­pares them for ‘bulling’ and lis­ten­ing to the ‘chuck­ling’ of geese at night.

He has to cope with the Scot­tish gov­ern­ment, un­safe trees and the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the hunt­ing ban. He’s lit­er­ally liv­ing the dream, given that dreams are gen­er­ally odd, dis­con­cert­ing and ir­ra­tional, as well as, in rec­ol­lec­tion, at times very funny.

A phone call with a gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial may leave him ‘shak­ing un­con­trol­lably with rage, stress and im­po­tence’, but there are com­pen­sa­tions. The Beast from the east leaves a beau­ti­ful view: ‘The snow-capped Lake District moun­tains re­flected on an ice­blue Sol­way is like look­ing at the Hi­malayas across Lake phewa.’

A gag­gle of mil­len­nial chil­dren give a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive and i en­joyed the ob­ser­va­tions on their speech (‘if you ask one of them a ques­tion, they start the re­spond­ing sen­tence with the word “so”, as if pa­tiently teach­ing a re­tarded child’).

Thoughts that the coun­try­side will mount a civil-dis­obe­di­ence cam­paign that will leave su­per­mar­ket shelves empty and make the politi­cians pay it proper re­spect are aban­doned in favour of mud­dling on and tak­ing ‘com­fort from the nat­u­ral world’. Couched in the gen­tlest of lan­guage, this book holds a cri de coeur. Clive Aslet

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