In this era of downloads and internet shopping, more and more people are deprived of the joy of browsing through racks of cds, looking for bargains, surprises, or just that special recording.
Grove Music, downstairs at The Grove Bookshop, offers a wide range of classical new releases, jazz on cd and vinyl, and a back catalogue of classic recordings in folk, jazz, classical and rock music. Rediscover the joy of browsing in our cosy basement shop.
Common Ground by Rob Cowen reviewed.
Wed 5th Aug 15
Ilkley-born Rob Cowen moved back to Yorkshire from London a few years ago, settling near Harrogate, and his exploration of the margins of town and country there form the basis of this book. Over the course of a year he examines the history, flora and fauna of a very small patch of land, combining this study with an account of his own eventful life and culminating in the birth of his son, Thomas. As if this weren’t enough, he accompanies each chapter with one of his own linocut illustrations, completing a very personal response to his local environment.
Many writers have produced lyrical laments for the idylls of Britain’s countryside, which usually means descriptions of the South of England, but there is also a growing number who prefer to focus on the edgelands, the boundaries between town and country, where man and nature live side by side ; whereas the countryside in general surrounds and overshadows its human occupants, these are the places where the majority of people live, and the natural world is often overlooked. It thrives nonetheless, and Rob Cowen makes every effort to observe and record it, finding delight not only where nature runs riot but also celebrating our less obvious interaction with nature.
The book is full of rich description; soil is as thick and dark as chocolate cake, snow lies “linen-white” on the ground, and his “oak tree choirs” bring Shakespeare to mind. The principal characters in the book are animals, foxes and hares, badgers and owls, even ants, but perhaps the most fascinating sections concern that unlikely human interaction with the natural world. A tramp sits in Caffe Nero, enjoying the coffee but despising the ersatz nature of everything else there, while a group of lager-swilling twenty-somethings frolic by the water, lulled into joyful relaxation by their semi-rural surroundings.
There is history too, from the inescapable legacy of Victorian railway-building to the change in landscape seen by men returning from the trenches. Those same Victorians, apparently, were so fond of celebrating Easter with lapwing eggs that by the early part of this century the bird was approaching extinction. Cowen re-creates worlds in microcosm, providing us on occasion with what amounts to a time machine; one journey back to 1979 sees “mullet-haired plasterers with their noisy transistors,” recreating in a few quick brushstrokes the sights and sounds of an earlier era.
The chapter entitled “The Turning Time” contains one of the best opening lines I’ve ever read (“It was just after dawn when I broke into Bachelor Gardens Sewage Works”) and fans of Reginald Perrin will raise a smile on reading about the so-called “Poets’ Estate” where Tennyson Avenue abuts Coleridge Drive. This is so much more than “nature writing,” as Rob Cowen brings to life the many and varied ways in which man and nature dance around each other in these borderlands, but it is, beyond everything, a human tale in which the fragility of local ecosystems is ultimately as nothing when set beside the fear and love elicited from the author by his newborn son. The book is full of battles for life as animals, birds and insects struggle to survive in changing surroundings; who knows whether the arrival of Thomas will curtail Cowen’s investigative wandering, or merely provide him with a partner in crime?