Magazine article The Spectator

News from Somewhere: On Settling

Magazine article The Spectator

News from Somewhere: On Settling

Article excerpt

Reasonable, readable rambles NEWS FROM SOMEWHERE: ON SETTLING by Roger Scruton Continuum, £16.99,pp. 177, ISBN 0826469302

The subtitle, On Settling', is apt; the book is about the author's settling in (you could nearly say 'into') what he calls 'the claylands', near Malmesbury in Gloucestershire, and about the 'settled' nature of that place, the threats it has survived, the way it has adapted and, by extension, the manner in which England and 'Englishness' have evolved.

Concerning 'Englishness': today happens to be St George's Day in brilliant sunshine. Earlier this morning there was a radio phone-in and people complaining that St George wasn't even English, his flag has been hijacked by football hooligans, and so on. (Phone-ins are unsettling.) 'English' is a difficult word for someone with my surname. 'Irishness' is just as troublesome to define, but in that island some sort of definition had to be arrived at for historical reasons. Whereas England has had no need to define itself for 1,000 years; not, perhaps, until now. Roger Scruton has a shot at this. (After this morning's phone-in the weatherman warned us of sun to come, and suggested archly that we put on sun-block to protect our 'lily-white skins'. One wonders what they made of that in Bradford or Leicester.)

One would guess with some certainty that Roger Scruton is not a multi-culturalist; he docs not ponder that particular matter. He certainly detests Brussels, because it 'prefers the rational to the reasonable', a useful distinction which is clearly close to his heart. What he does, in place of too much argument, is take the various facts and experiences and personalities he has encountered as an incomer to the countryside, turn them over in his fingers - he has been, after all, a professional philosopher - hold them up to the light and describe what he believes they tell him. He breaks his book into sections, Our Soil', Our People', Our Place' and so on, each section allowing him to move appropriately through flora, fauna, local inhabitants, etc. This controlled rambling by subject works well: not much is overlooked. Pets (not admired) lead him to farm animals (useful) to wild ones (a nuisance). Ponds lead him comfortably on:

To meditate by a pond is to be aware that nature is fragile, murky and mysterious, organically dependent on human choice.

I am inspired to similar thoughts, too, when I contemplate a muck-heap.

The paragraph-break into the next (allied) subject is typical and, far from authorising an urban guffaw he has good and true things to say of that steaming, rotting mass. …

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