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