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Sally Walker (Eastbourne, UK)

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Downland Shepherds
Downland Shepherds
by Bob Copper
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars A lovely, highly informative and well illustrated book, 17 Dec 2014
This review is from: Downland Shepherds (Hardcover)
For all those who, like me, walk across a landscape and try to imagine how it would have appeared in the past, this book will certainly re-create for you how the beautiful Sussex Downland would have appeared for centuries up until 1920 – 1930. It will also detail for you the changes that were taking place at this time. For example, the demarcation of the Downland by barbed wire into areas in separate land ownership. Not to mention the threats posed by housing developers keen to make a fast buck by building des-res on the Downland with stunning views of the Weald land below.

This book is packed with many photographs and beautiful illustrations.

Barclays Wills was a keen enthusiast for nature and for shepherds and their way of life as lived out on the Downs. He was one of a handful of men who at this time completely engaged with the beauty of the landscape that is particular to the Downs and sought to protect it from harm. Sensing, and indeed witnessing, that the winds of change were coming, Wells wanted to make a record of the shepherd’s way of life. He therefore writes right at the pivot point in time when the old ways were being gradually obliterated by the new ways of farming. New ways which did away with the need for shepherds who tended to their flocks 365 days of the year regardless of the weather. Wells clearly laments the loss of the shepherd and found it hard to accept the modern ways of life.

It is a moving and vivid portrayal of the shepherd’s lives and is the result of much time that Barclay Wells spent with the shepherds chatting with them to discover what they did. It is full of rich details and will tell you exactly how they undertook their work through the seasons and the equipment they used.

This book will appeal to many, not just those who love the Downs landscape, but also those interested in social and agricultural history. Those too whose faces turn more towards the past and the former slower pace of life, wanting to read about fulfilled and complete lives lived out entirely in one county, will love this book. It will transport them far away from the swift, technology-driven and media-obsessed lives that the majority live today. It will therefore bring a few ounces of a soothing balm brought straight to you from a past of less than one hundred years ago.

The spirit of the downs : impressions and reminscences of the Sussex downs / by Arthur Beckett ; with twelve illustrations from photographs, endpapers and maps
The spirit of the downs : impressions and reminscences of the Sussex downs / by Arthur Beckett ; with twelve illustrations from photographs, endpapers and maps
by Arthur. Beckett
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars A gem of a book, 2 Nov 2014
This is a delightful book, a gem of historical writing, that will be of interest to all those who love the Sussex Downs for sure, but also to those with an interest in finding out what life was like in the countryside in the c19th and at the beginning of the C20th.

Beckett starts his book with an evocation of the ‘Spirit’ of the Downs, with whom he has an imaginary conversation. I quote a small section here:

“Thus on the top of the hill I received the great gift of the Spirit of the Downs – the gift that makes a man master of the world. It is the gift that is given to all who find the Spirit and commune with it.

Then I asked the Spirit to explain the gift. “The Gift,” said the Spirit, “is the power of interpreting the Commonplace. The man who receives it no longer, and ever will be again, a slave. The gift gives him golden days, the existence of which he has only suspected. He will return to his toil, but his spirit is freed and dwells, as he works, on the joy of the new days he has found; and always, when he may, he lays his work aside and comes to the Downs to feel again the full flavour of his freedom, and to enjoy the delights of commonplace things.”

How Zen is this! I have found this to be so true.

A chunk of this book is given over to Beckett describing his walking of the South Downs Way starting in Winchester. He travels with an anonymous friend: Amicus. Beckett describes not just the landscape of the Downs and the Weald which lies at it’s feet, but also the life of the characters they meet along the way, principally in the Downland villages where they seek food, beer, porterage for their knapsacks and overnight accommodation.

The remainder includes a brief overview of the history of the Downs and the people who have dwelled either upon them or close by. He also gives a chapter to the people currently living in or nearby the downland. Beckett describes them as Sussex peasants and is often, prejudicial and condescending, which now grates in our politically correct world.

There is an interesting chapter about the history of the procession through Lewes to mark the fifth day of November each year.

Pure joy are the chapters in which he recounts particular people whom he has struck up a conversation with, including an old shepherd at Beachy Head. Many of these people, mainly men, were old when Beckett was speaking to them. Given that he first published this book in 1909, some of these men would have been born before Victoria came to the throne. So what we have is an insight as to what life was like for those who earned their living off the land in the C19th.

The edition I read was published in 1930, so after the WW1 and relatively shortly before WW2. It marks the beginning of the drawing of the veil over centuries, if not millennia way of life just before it is replaced with mechanisation. So we find Beckett lamenting the fact that there are hardly any shepherds to be found who still wear the Sussex smock and that there are only three farms that he can list where the ploughing is still undertaken by oxen.

After you have read this book and then walk over the Downs you will not see them in the same way again. They will be greatly enriched by your imaginations as to who has gone before you on the same path, thanks to what Beckett has laid before you.

A must read for those with an interest in Sussex, and the Downs in particular, historical country life and social history.

I highly recommend this book.

My Pride and Joy: Autobiography
My Pride and Joy: Autobiography
by George Adamson
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, at times gripping and often thought provoking., 21 Oct 2014
This represents a very interesting, at times gripping and often thought provoking read. George’s writing style is highly accessible and straightforward. At the beginning he states that his intention is to share both the good and the bad, by which he means that he will not shy away from writing about things that perhaps he could have done better, or went wrong in his life.

He plunges the reader straight into the African bush, whose landscape and wildlife George brings to life with vivid descriptions. George’s account of his early life in Kenya provides an historical perspective on the white colonialist occupation.

Having just read The Great Safari, an admirable and very detailed biography of both George and Joy Adamson, it is nice to hear George’s own voice. A man who bonded together two opposing characteristics: gentleness and modesty, with bravery, courage and can do spirit. His gentleness is none the more exemplified by his very spare and diplomatic account of what it was like to be married to Joy Adamson, who had a very mercurial personality. Given that he wrote his book after her death, he could have let rip, and it is to his credit that instead he concentrated on the positive and drew a veil over the bad times.

George, like Joy, will forever remain linked first and foremost to Elsa, the lioness of Born Free that they reared in the wild and taught to fend for herself, to the point that she was able to raise her own family. But actually this was just the start of George’s lifetime work, namely rearing and looking after a large number of lions, with varied characters, to a point that they could live a life of freedom in the wild. George gives a detailed account of his lions and does not demure on recounting the disastrous events associated with some of them.

George’s earlier life is no less dramatic and he gives us a window into Kenya prior to mass tourism and the increasing demands placed upon the wild lands of Africa due to man’s exploding population. The closing chapters of George’s autobiography bring into sharp focus the lasting effects of these outside pressures upon the delicate but intricately balanced ecology of the African bush, which he carefully sets out. He says that the best outcome for a lion that is released is a question mark as to the life it is living free in the wild and he closes his book with question marks of his own as to what will happen to the bush in the future. Here, in the west, we are so far removed and so focussed on hand-held gadgets, that we have little interest in what is happening to the swathes of vanishing African wilderness, that is until perhaps it is too late. We really need a 21st century George and Joy Adamson to bring such things to our attention.

Much criticism has been levelled at the Adamson’s as to what in the final analysis they achieved with rearing big cats and the releasing them into the wild. George does not shy away from such criticism and he gives his levelled response. It is for the reader to draw his or her own conclusions, and I’ll not voice mine here.

Ultimately this is an account of a man who by and large lived his life the way he wanted to, which was free in the African bush, away from the normal constraints of so called civilised society. How many of us live lives of such freedom? Whilst you are reading this book you can vicariously have a taste of such freedom.

I highly recommend this book.

The Great Safari: Lives of George and Joy Adamson
The Great Safari: Lives of George and Joy Adamson
by Adrian House
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars Rarely have I enjoyed a book as much, 12 Oct 2014
Having recently read the Born Free trilogy by Joy Adamson, I was intrigued to learn more about the Adamsons. The Great Safari, I suspect, tells its reader all they really need to know about them because it is so detailed and comprehensive in its coverage of both of their lives. Not just their lives since they met, but also their younger lives and the events that shaped their later lives.

I found it interesting and engrossing from its first to its last page, with no dips in its ability to capture my attention in between. Personally speaking, books that I can write this about are extremely rare.

It is a no holes barred biography, but I would say that poor Joy Adamson comes off less well than George. I found it hard at times, not to think that Adrian House was not being particularly biased in favour of George, who really does comes across as a hero, whilst Joy is most definitely the villain of the peace. For sure she would have been difficult to live with, (and it has to be acknowledged that House did know both Joy and George), but there would have been a reason(s) for this, which House does indeed touch upon, but overall I feel she deserves more compassion than has been metered out to her within this biography.

On the positive side House is quick to give credit to Joy for her numerous accomplishments. The great tragedy I would say, rather than simply a sadness, is that Joy was never able to find the authentic and enduring love match with a man, which she craved. Instead the great loves of her life were two big female cats, Elsa the lioness of course and later Pippa the cheetah.

For me the great appeal of this couple was their ability to live their lives for themselves, with a large amount of freedom, which enabled them to forge great connections with nature and the animal kingdom. In the last pages of his biography House quotes the following passage from Cyril Connolly’s The Unquiet Grave:-

The spiritual life of man is the flowering of his bodily existence: there is a physical life which remains the prefect way of living for a natural man, a life in close contact with nature, with the sun and the passage of the seasons, and one rich in opportunities for equinoctial migrations and home-comings. This life has now become artificial, out of reach of all but the rich or the obstinately free, yet until we can return to it we are unable to appreciate the potentialities of living.

If, like me, this passage resonates with you, you will definitely find much in this biography with which to connect.

In short it is an in-depth study of the lives of Joy and George Adamson, intelligently portrayed, which is well worth reading.

Forever Free
Forever Free
by Joy Adamson
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars Dramatic, sad and a dollop of escapism, 30 Sep 2014
This review is from: Forever Free (Hardcover)
The third book in Joy Adamson’s trilogy of the life of Elsa the lioness and her three cubs. If you have not read the first two books: Born Free and Living Free then you need to before you read Forever Free.

Of the trilogy Forever Free contains by far the most tension and real-life drama, which makes it somewhat of a page-turner. I’ll not spoil your pleasure of this book by revealing the nature of the drama. All I will say it that as with its predecessors, but more so, it contains a fair measure of sadness, so definitely have your hankies at the ready and perhaps not a book to read on public transport!

Forever Free just like Living Free, in particular, is somewhat of a travelogue and takes you right into the Serengeti and the game and wildlife to be found there. There are plenty of photographs throughout. So reading this book is like going on an African safari and in this sense represents a dollop of escapism.

Interesting and somewhat depressing to read that in the 1960s, the wildlife was being culled at an alarming rate by poachers.

Like Born Free and Living Free this book too raises questions as to the wisdom of the Adamsons’ actions, by which I mean their interference in nature and not allowing nature to take its course, until they were forced to do so by the relevant authorities at the time. The conclusion of many experts seems to be that whether you agree or disagree with what they did, there is one positive arising. That the Adamsons’ helped in large measure to put African wildlife and its plight on the map; they stimulated huge public interest in wildlife and taught the public that animals have emotions and feelings too and should be treated with the same respect and dignity that human beings expect to receive.

This book will appeal to many: whether you’re after a cutesy-pie animal story; you want to go on an armchair African safari; or you want to find out about and perhaps undertake a fireside psychological muse as to how two extraordinary people chose to live their far from ordinary lives and what motivated their actions.

I highly recommend this book.

Living Free: The Story of Elsa and Her Cubs
Living Free: The Story of Elsa and Her Cubs
by Joy Adamson
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars Captivating, 24 Sep 2014
The second book in Joy Adamson’s trilogy of the life of Elsa, the wonderful lioness. It is just as good as Born Free, written in the same immediate, highly accessible narrative, which recounts the almost daily doings of the cubs and those of other wildlife in the bush. As before Joy places you right in the bush with you, so in reading this book you go on an armchair African safari. If you have not read Born Free, which recounts her being brought up by the Adamson’s to the point at which she could hunt for herself, I strongly suggest that you do before reading Living Free.

The focus in this part of the trilogy is the life of Elsa’s three cubs: one female and two male, who were born in the wild in Kenya. Whilst the cubs were born in the wild and were not introduced to the Adamson’s by Elsa until they were about six weeks old, they then proceeded to have a lot of contact with them in their camp. And, I think it would be fair to say that without the Adamson’s intervention in terms of providing a large number of carcasses for Elsa and her growing family during their first year of life, they would have had a much tougher time of it and all may not have survived.

Elsa at the time, thanks to Born Free and the subsequent film of the book, became known around the world and captivated many people’s hearts and imagination. The fact that Elsa was able to make the shift from life essentially as a pet, albeit in a camp in the African bush, to a life as a wild lioness was hailed at the time, (1960) as nothing short of miraculous. In looking at footage of Elsa on You Tube and her interaction with the Adamson’s, she really did seem to straddle both worlds, switching seemingly with ease from giving affection with her claws always retracted, to hunting for her cubs.

Whether the Adamson’s were ultimately wise to do what they did I believe is still the subject of debate to this day. The end of this book highlights the difficulty that they set in place for Elsa and her cubs, because Elsa lived this dual life. I’ll not spoil here what that difficulty was, suffice to say that it has lasting consequences which are the subject of the final part of the trilogy: Forever Free.

For me, although Elsa is long dead, as are now both of the Adamson’s, the story of her life is still immensely captivating. It’s the kind of book that enters your thoughts, often, as you go about your normal daily life. That has to be the measure of a good book, the sort that you really just want to spend the whole day with curled up on the sofa. I therefore highly recommend this book.

The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot
The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot
by Robert Macfarlane
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars So much more than travel writing, 18 Sep 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
As you might expect from a fellow of a college of Cambridge University this is an intelligently written book, so not only the subject matter but also the writing itself is a delight.

As to the subject matter MacFarlane brings vividly to life a number of different landscapes, mainly in Britain, but also in Palestine, Spain and China, (Tibet). Each chapter covers one of his walks, on which he is often accompanied with a person who knows well the landscape through which they are walking. He also meets some extraordinary people too.

The majority of the chapters have as their title the rock, substance or element that quintessentially defines the particular landscape through which the author is walking.

Into MacFarlane's account of each walk he weaves into his narration references to relevant literary influences, with a thread running intermittently through of the poet Edward Thomas who is something of a hero to the author.

Also forming part of his rich cloth are some amazing second hand stories and myths of events that have taken place in the landscapes.

All in all MacFarlane has created a rich blend so The Old Ways is so much more than travel writing.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and am motivated to read his other output.

I highly recommend this book.

Born Free
Born Free
by Joy Adamson
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful, 17 Sep 2014
This review is from: Born Free (Hardcover)
Published seven times in 1960, three prints being made in the month of April alone this demonstrates the popularity of this book at the time. It was published at a time when safari package holidays had yet to be invented and the farthest that most English people traveled abroad was to a Spanish coastal holiday resort. Born Free brings directly into your life the African savanna and bush, the wildlife that inhabits it and what it is like to live amongst it. This will account in some measure for the rapturous reception of this book. In addition, and in the main, it will be because of the fact that it recounts an enduring relationship between a human being and an animal; most people, including me, cannot resist a good, high arrh factor animal story such as this.

Born Free, the first of a trilogy, recounts in detail Elsa's early life and her transformation from a helpless lion cub only a few weeks old to a young lioness able to fend for herself in the wild. Even though I knew the story beforehand and I've seen the film decades ago and I'm now a somewhat world-weary cynic of a certain age, it has utterly captured my heart. This book has brought me much joy at the beginning and end of my days, sandwiching my daily stresses with tales of another world at another time.

Joy Adamson's writing is direct and immediate with little lyricism, but this does not detract. It makes the story of her life in the African bush with Elsa highly engaging and accessible.

There is a naivety to Joy Adamson's account of Elsa, which is infectious and somewhat beguiling. In essence Joy lays bare, (and thus made herself vulnerable to criticism) for her readers her undying and unconditional love for Elsa, which some may say was somewhat un-natural, but perhaps understandable for a woman who had had three miscarriages. Joy needed to have a means to release her un-expressed maternal love and Elsa turned up right on cue.

Joy Adamson found it difficult to find a publisher for her book, but when one finally said yes it set off a domino effect: Elsa, the wonderful lion cub and later lioness became known around the world, a film was made of her story, the making of the film had a life changing effect upon the McKenna's who portrayed Joy and George Adamson, resulting in them founding the Born Free charity which continues to this day.

The work of the Adamsons with Elsa in bringing her up from a lion cub, whose mother George had killed with a bullet, to the point of her being able to fend for herself in the wild, is regarded by some as controversial. Personally I take my hat off to them for saving at least one of the three orphaned cubs from a miserable life in a zoo - Elsa's two sisters ended up in Rotterdam zoo. In a sense, one might well think that it was the least they could do. Although Joy makes light of Elsa's sister's incarceration and says that she visited them in Rotterdam and reported that they were both living in excellent conditions, one has to wonder whether in fact she was glossing over the situation, given the state of most zoos at this time - lions in small and barren cages often with their occupants pacing up and down rhythmically. Maybe this is the price that had to be paid for the ultimate founding of the Born Free charity one of whose objectives is to free animals from appalling living conditions in captivity.

One has to remember that she lived the life of a colonialist employing Africans as servants to undertake menial housework, camp preparation and dismantling for her. There is obvious prejudice in her writing, which grates and it is pretty clear that she regarded Africans as inferior. Ultimately, many years later, she was to meet her death by another of her servant's hands because of her attitude towards them. This gripe, in my estimation is not a reason to set this book aside.

For all those that love animals and who wish for escapism you will love this book.

Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton: The Marriage of the Century
Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton: The Marriage of the Century
Price: £3.43

5.0 out of 5 stars A page turner, 11 Sep 2014
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Reading this book is akin to looking at a video of a train crash, in particular two trains meeting head on with one train being overridden by the other – Elizabeth over Richard. You don’t really want to look, to find out the awful truth, but you can’t seem to stop yourself.

It is well written. It is highly readable, as all tales of the hybrid breed of demi-gods and celebrities seem to be.

My motivation in reading this book was really to learn more about Richard Burton. In particular to try and find out more about his psychological make-up and to a very large degree the book delivered. I would say in almost equal measure an assessment of Elizabeth’s make-up is also possible.

We are given a biographical account of each of their early years and loves ahead of their cataclysmic meeting on the set of Cleopatra. Then the book proceeds to give a detailed account of their courtship, subsequent marriage, divorce, re-marriage and divorce. There is a short section covering Richard’s death, Elizabeth’s reaction to his demise and her life following.

I just could not help myself wishing that they had never met so that Richard could have, perhaps, found a more comforting and stable love match of the kind, albeit short-lived, that he seemed to achieve post-Elizabeth. But he seems to have been largely incapable of controlling himself as far as Liz was concerned rather like a fly around an electric light bulb. His coping mechanism of living with Elizabeth, who he became almost completely emotionally dependant upon, seemed to be to drink himself into oblivion and therefore deny himself of realizing his full potential as an actor and a human being.

Ultimately this is a tragic tale, which can be read as a fairly light behind the curtain account of two hugely famous peoples’ lives and loves, or you can if you wish, delve deeper and try and analyse what was going on beneath the surface gloss of happiness, all the money that bought the yachts, jewels, planes and cars, etc. This book allows you to choose for yourself what your journey through it will be.

For me this book represents a clear lesson in what not to pursue in a quest for happiness.

Well worth reading.

Stolen Innocence: The Sally Clark Story - A Mother's Fight for Justice
Stolen Innocence: The Sally Clark Story - A Mother's Fight for Justice
by John Batt
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars Heart rending, 10 Sep 2014
I’ve just finished this book. The description of this book on its inside fly includes the statement that it is written with the power of a thriller. I think this is spot on. The facts of this case had many significant twists and turns. I was led through this book at a pace by the sheer horror of what I was reading, which, if it was contained within a work of fiction I’d probably consider far-fetched.

But of course this all actually happened to poor Sally Clark and her family. Her treatment at the hands of so called medical experts coupled with the vagaries of the British justice system dealt Sally with an inhuman blow, that she never recovered from despite her eventual release from prison in 2003. This book now has increased poignancy because subsequent to its publication in 2004 Sally Clark died of alcohol poisoning in 2007; she was unable to come to terms with what had happened to her.

This book is very well written by the solicitor instructed by Sally’s father, an ex- senior policeman, to hold a watching brief of the various court cases. He is of course highly critical of some of the key participants in the events but not to the degree that this criticism detracts from the overall account. It is devoid of any bitterness which might have made uncomfortable reading, but the Lord knows would have been justifiable.

Sally and Steve’s courage and dignity in the face of their extreme tragedy and the cruelty metered out to them are ultimately inspiring. This is an account of triumph over adversity. I am only too sorry that there was not to be a happy ending for them.

This is one of those books that occupies your thoughts when you are not reading it. I, as a mere reader of this book, now feel immense anger at the egotistical and arrogant behaviour of many of the prosecution expert witnesses and the prosecution team.

I highly commend this book.
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