Toiling the soil

170726MenAndTheFields

Adrian Bell writes about British agriculture between the wars in his book Men And The Fields (Little Toller Books) when farmers and their labourers eked out a living during a protracted slump.
It was a challenging time when toiling the soil and tending livestock did not pay well. The characters Bell describes were familiar with the different rhythms of the seasons; they lived in harmony with their environment and were at ease with the plodding of hooves.
The tasks they carried out would have been familiar to previous generations, including those so recently named on the war memorials standing sentinel-like in each parish.
Bell, father of the journalist and former MP Martin Bell, left Uppingham School, Rutland, and apprenticed himself to a Suffolk farmer in 1920, aged 19, farming in various locations over the next 60 years.
He describes his beloved countryside through the practical, non-sentimental eyes of a farmer; he realised this rural lifestyle, with its ancient knowledge, was already withering on the vine as the magnificent heavy horses were being superseded by noisy tractors.
Only months after Bell’s book was published in 1939, Britain was plunged into another world war, an event that hastened the industrialisation of agriculture. After the war, farming, lubricated by Whitehall subsidies, continued to change the landscape with its labour-saving machines and relentless quest for increased output and profit.
Bell’s prose is illustrated by his friend John Nash, the distinguished war artist, with a series of evocative colour lithographs and monochrome line drawings.

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It’s bleak up north…

170622SalvageEdric

Salvage by Robert Edric is a bleak novel about inertia and our inability to cope with environmental disaster.
It is set in the 22nd century; the UK is a barren country blighted by pollution, erratic weather systems and flooding. Livestock have long since been culled due to contagion with farms being converted into landfill sites; the nation is choked by crumbling infrastructure, corruption and red tape.
Quinn, a disillusioned civil servant, is sent to a remote northern town to write a report designed to pave the way for its rapid expansion in order to resettle families fleeing the floods.
He encounters selfish individuals desperate to maintain their own fiefdoms while everything around them is falling apart. Tragedy is personified by a son of the earth crushed by the loss of his family farm and a jobless journalist driven to drink by professional impotency.
Edric depicts a ruined land where politicking reigns supreme. In creating characters reduced by their grubby little compromises, he shines a critical light on contemporary Britain.