London’s Natural History by R.S.R. Fitter

IMG_20160214_125355This post is part of a series called Small Rain, exploring the history of urban nature writing.

London’s Natural History charts the natural history of London from its pre-historic, geological formation, through the Romans, the medieval period (when kites were a common London bird), the expansion of the city from the fifteenth century onwards, and on to its final bursting point in the mid-nineteenth century. It then looks at the various human impacts on the city’s flora and fauna in the present day (the present day being 1945), including the influence of traffic, refuse disposal, agriculture and the recent war. Whilst the history of London is interesting, it is the snapshot of London in 1945 that I find the most fascinating. For example, Fitter mentions the abundance of sparrows in London, according to Fitter they are the only London bird considered to be a Cockney. Since then the number of sparrows in London has drastically declined – by 60% between 1994 and 2004 according to the RSPB. On the other hand, he mentions the recent increase in the number of gulls in London, a bird that is still increasing in urban areas.

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Why are you learning Dutch?

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Me, being Dutch

I get asked that question a lot, especially by Dutch people – even by the Dutch person who is supposed to be teaching me Dutch. At this point I have a set of pre-prepared answers I can rattle out: because I think it’s rude to live in a country and not make an effort to learn the language; because despite repeated assertions from Dutch people that everyone here speaks English, everyone in fact speaks Dutch; because I’d like to be able to understand the announcements on the train; because I thought it would help me find a job. All of these reasons are true, but at this point I don’t think they are the reasons that motivate me to keep trying.

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Nature Near London by Richard Jefferies

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Richard Jefferies

This post is part of a series called Small Rain, exploring the history of urban nature writing.

Although Nature Near London is maybe more accurately classified as suburban nature writing, the ‘near’ in the title giving it away, it would feel remiss to begin this series with any other book. After all, a genre doesn’t spring up fully formed over night and part of the aim of this series of blog posts is to explore the evolution of urban nature writing as a sub-species distinct from nature writing (and if, indeed, it is possible to define the genre at all). With Nature Near London the seed of an idea was being sown – the idea that it is not necessary to turn ones back on the city to find nature. I also include Jefferies’ book because the city, London, looms large; it is a presence that forms a counter-point to the places Jefferies explores. It also loomed large in Jefferies’ own mind, and magnetised him even as he sought to escape it. Continue readingNature Near London by Richard Jefferies

A home out of this world

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The stars over Belgium by S Cappallo

I’m fascinated by sense of home. I’m not sure why but I often find myself feeling overwhelming nostalgic for moments and places where I have felt that sense of being at home: the living room of my childhood home, the dryer is on and the windows are fogged up; it’s autumn in St Andrews and there are leaves in the sea; the smell of coal fires filling the air on cold Cornish nights; summer evenings at Wollaton Park. I even sometimes feel anticipatory nostalgia for Amsterdam. Seemingly small things, like fogged up windows, can take us back to a particular time and place, tying us to that moment.
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The war on pigeons

For some reason, my boyfriend and I decided that the end of the summer would be a good time to finally get started on the balcony. In fact, we’ve been meaning to do something about it for the past year and a half, since we moved into our apartment. It’s a great balcony. It’s really spacious and instead of looking out onto a road, it faces onto a courtyard. There’s just one problem: other residents had got there before us. Pigeons. Continue readingThe war on pigeons

How do you treat your books?

I’m reading a collection of essays at the moment called Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman. The essays explore the various aspects of the reading and writing life, such as: how to marry someone else’s books, messages on flyleaves, You-Are-There reading, the pitfalls of being a compulsive proofreading and plagiarism. However, I particularly enjoyed the essay ‘Never Do That To A Book’ about how people treat their books.

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Of gibbons and unexpected things

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I woke up this morning at 6, looked out the window, saw a white sheet of cloud across the sky and contemplated going back to bed. I forced myself not too. For a long time I’ve been wanting to get up early and go walking in the city. I had a romantic idea of what it would be like: the morning sun pooling on the old canal houses and in the trees that line the water, steam rising from vents down winding alleyways, shopkeepers lifting shutters and setting out tables, the smell of bread baking in the air, people on balconies with hot mugs of coffee, and a profound sense of peace and calm before the rush of the day begins. Continue readingOf gibbons and unexpected things

Elections and directions (or lack thereof)

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Image by bulbocode909. Used under a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license.

Last weekend I went back to Manchester for a few days. Spending time back home is always a slightly disorientating experience. Both going to Manchester and coming back to Amsterdam, I’m confronted by just how different the two cities are. There are the obvious things like the language, the way people dress, and the architecture. And then there are the differences like never seeing homeless people in Amsterdam, but always seeing several on the streets of Manchester. It was also disorientating to wake up on Friday morning to see a map of the UK swathed in blue, when I had been hoping for a very different outcome. All weekend and for days afterwards I felt a sense of sadness and disbelief whenever I remembered that the Conservatives are still in power. Continue readingElections and directions (or lack thereof)

A history of urban nature writing

Image from Wildlife in the City by Alan C. Jenkins
Image from Wildlife in the City by Alan C. Jenkins

22 January 2018: I will keep updating the list with new urban nature related books I encounter. However, I have decided from now on to focus in on books that provide a creative and personal response to urban nature. That means I won’t be reading any more guidebooks or academic books as part of this series. No doubt I will get around to owning/reading them because there are many fascinating academic texts exploring a number of urban nature themes and I love the way guidebooks reflect changes in attitudes towards urban nature over time, but the list is getting ever longer and I’d like to finish this project at some point!

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Some time ago (I don’t remember when or how – though I can guess that I was probably on a train, which is where I have all my best ideas) the idea popped into my head to read and review every work of urban nature writing ever published, from Richard Jefferies’s Nature Near London, right up to the present day when the genre seems to have exploded. Once lodged in my mind, the idea refused to budge and it has been there ever since. Continue readingA history of urban nature writing