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The turning of the year, idly and not so idly.,
This review is from: Brave Old World: A Month-by-Month Guide to Husbandry, or the Fine Art of Looking After Yourself (Hardcover)
Tom Hodgkinson fits somewhere on the spectrum between young fogey and old hippy. Well-read (he makes sure he has the time to be), civilised and thoughtful, he is the nearest the modern media has to a 'true gentleman'. Here he enchants us with his take on the old peasant Calendar of Days, starting with "January Chop Wood" and tasking us round the seasons through "June Mind Bees" and "November Kill Pig" to a Christmas as free from tacky consumerism as we could devoutly wish for.
As the year turns, Tom gives us his pragmatic insight into the tasks which make his life in the country both a joy and a back-ache, alongside a literary illumination with poetry and prose from the earliest times onwards. The editor of the Idler is saddened by the way the modern world has turned its back on the richness and wisdom of times gone by, and it is not surprise to find quotations here from Pliny, Tusser and Goldsmith among others (lest you lack his background reading, the back of the book has potted biographies of his heroes for you to refer to).
The medieval calendar was rooted in seasonal tasks, illustrated in illuminated manuscripts like the Luttrell Psalter and appearing on church fonts and in oak carvings. It was a far from romanticised world, in which cold toes, hunger and hard work were accepted and embraced as a necessary part of our existence. The text is similarly realistic, with the author giving advice and philosophy on the business of near-self-sufficienccy which is a world away from the fluffy rose-tinted view in so many poncy and impractical books on the market. The net result is that, in reading him, you get a valuable insight, have a better idea what to expect, and feel better too about your inevitable failures and disasters. But the book is good on joy, too; the real joy that comes from acheivement and authenticity rather than spending money on "fun". Each month's chapter ends with a calendar of feasts, the seasonal celebrations and saints days that used to give us something other than a new series of "Wallander" to look forward to.
Ther are no pictures; this is a book to be read and savoured like a novel, not consulted as a "how to" manual. But have this book by your bed and you'll get more out of every illustrated guide and self-sufficiency book you own.