One for them: Dr Xargle’s Books of Earthlets
Kitty came home with another new book from school the other day. But this time it wasn’t her weekly library book or yet another edition of Biff, Chip and Kipper, but this:
It’s a present from her headmaster to the Reception class, to share around and enjoy together, and being my daughter, when faced with a new story she made an unassailable bid to be the first to take it home. And I’m so glad she did because it is to be frank, hilariously funny.
And funny in that very specific way that means that Kitty thinks it’s absolutely brilliant and very silly, and H and I as veterans of the baby years can see so much that is absolutely logical and a very believable conclusion if aliens did land on earth. It’s so right, and yet at the same time, utterly wrong.
Well OK, this one might be true, we tried it out on Pip just to check and he did genuinely say “Hee hee here!”; at least he did right up until the point when I stopped and then he fixed me with the sort of glare that would freeze a volcano until I continued through the rest of the story.
The unravelling of the sheep though is just brilliant; would that I was that productive with the knitting needles though!!
And the baby cover in cat hair, mud, scrambled egg and banana by the end of the day …well we don’t have a cat, but Pip has spent much of his life putting in serious efforts on rest.
It’s all presented as Dr Xargle giving a lesson to a class of school age aliens, just before they come on a field trip to check us out in person and it’s such a lovely book I think we may have to make it a permanent addition to our library – as it is Kitty loved it so much she bargained to keep it for an extra two days!
Credit for this one must go to the lovely lady on the till in Waterstones in Birmingham. I’d gone in to buy Freya, and, as you do, collected up enough of a handful of other lovely stories that I was very eligible for the buy one get one half price deal. Did I want any of the offer books? she asked. I looked at the pile in my hand, considered how long it was going to take to read even those, and shook my head.
“Are you sure? This one’s really good” she replied, and pushed the gentle green cover towards me.
I added it to the pile. It’s taken me a little while to get around to reading it but it was the book that I started reading in the bath, kept reading while the children ran around the garden, and was still reading with one hand while stirring the supper with the other. It is an utterly compelling and utterly unromantic account of life as a Lake District fell shepherd, told as part memoir, and part yearly cycle of life on the farm; the two woven together into one cohesive story.
And in some ways an uncomfortable read, but in a good way. I might be related to people who farm, and even some who’ve farmed sheep, and growing up in rural Devon the yearly rhythm of the farming community was certainly on our radar, but from the perspective of James Redbanks and his colleagues I’m definitely in the “thinks the Lake District is a pretty place to come and play Swallows and Amazons” camp. He writes about being in a school assembly, listening to a teacher, who saw in these “farm boys” only a lack of ambition, describe the untamed wild that surrounded them and how it should be preserved for the nation, and feeling the disconnect between the place she knew and was describing, and the land that his family and countless others had worked for centuries; this is his account of the other side of the story, the story of families who have lived and breathed sheep for so long that what the teacher saw as settling for a low end career, is more of a calling to carry on their way of life.
The Lakes were far enough north, and wild enough to escape much of the impact of centuries of political infighting further south and so it evolved into a community all of its own, until the invention of tourism, and his potted history covers both the emergence of tourism as the majority economy, just as it took over from farming and fishing in Devon, and the impact on the community, largely, as in Devon, when it comes to a lack of affordable housing. And there are parts of the story that are heartbreaking; the loss of generations of work as flocks were culled during the foot and mouth crisis in particular.
But riding through the whole book is a sense of determination, a clear and certain belief that whatever might get thrown at them, the fell shepherds and their sheep will be there for the centuries to come, because it’s not a career, nor are the farms soulless businesses simply looking for profit; it is a vocation, and it is founded on love.
I’m loving watching my reading list expand and expand again each month so please do link up below and go and say hi to Claire and Katie my lovely co-hosts, and if’ve you’ve been reading something good, please come and link up below – happy reading!