Virginia Barton

Invitation to the country’s waltz


Catholic Herald, 1 January 1988


Review: The Country Habit by Josephine Haworth (Methuen, £10.95)


Any book with a glorious pic of the sunlit hills round Rydal Water on the jacket must be worth a closer look. Josephine Haworth spent a year trogging up and down England and Wales leaning over fences, peering into pig-sties, prodding beef-cattle and generally getting good value from her green wellies.




It is no surprise to discover she had a career in television documentaries before taking up the pen, for it is an intensely visual book. Complimented by some excellent photographs, the book is a very readable account of country life today arranged in 12 seasonal chapters, January to December.

Curious country characters sprinkle the text, but they are genuine people rather than rural caricatures of the ooh-aah variety. Crammed with information as up-to-date as artificial insemination, pea-harvesting, intensive sheep-farming and crop-spraying, it is nicely balanced with the “old ways” such as hill-farming in Wales, stone walling in the Borders, and game-keeping on Exmoor.

Ninety per cent of the population of England and Wales now live in an urban environment and less than three per cent are employed in agriculture. But large numbers of that 90 per cent make regular forays into the countryside, which they expect to remain largely unchanged despite the enormous demands made on it.

This author presents the conflict between the need for competitive food prices on the one hand and conservation on the other, in an enlightening and lively manner. The daily toil of farmers, bee-keepers, fruitgrowers, river wardens and the like, is described in easy, conversational prose with occasional apt verses interspersed.

If, like me, you like nothing so much as an insight into the eventful lives of other people without stirring from your armchair, you will thoroughly enjoy this excursion into the country year in all its variety. Heaven forbid one should actually have to get up at 4:30 am to do the milking, or brave the elements of a winter night to bring the sheep to safety, but thank God there are people who do these things so that we may have milk on our doorstep, roast lamb for Sunday lunch and honey still for tea!

Spiced with plenty of humour and incident, it is a jolly good read apart from being an invitation to look more closely, carefully and considerately at our country heritage.



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