There are not many people who can get away with writing  “After weeks of agonising indecision, I have firmly decided that I am unequivocally ambivalent” but Roy Hattersley does in his book “In search of England” with reference to the Globe theatre in London. The book is a collection of articles drawn from several decades of writing in newspapers and magazines. To a certain generation in Britain, he is associated with Labour Party governments in the latter part of the 20th century and he served as a minister in them. There will be at least as many people who dislike or disapprove of their policies as those who would endorse them. Fear not, this is not a political memoir, not a rewriting of political history, but a series of pieces reflecting on various aspects of England and English life.

Roy Hattersley is not one who ever “believed in the unique virtue of the Anglo-Saxon race” but he enjoys and relishes being English and having England as the home to which he returns after a holiday abroad. “My allegiance is cultural (which means William Shakespeare and cricket) and geographical (which means the Peak District and the Pennines) and usually I do not make a fuss about it.”

One theme he returns to is poetry including an article which features one of my favourites: John Clare. He observes that “much of John Clare’s poetry, like his life and death, is sad.” However, it is “like the English countryside itself, almost always gentle”. I am not sure that he is right about the countryside, but it is fair to say that the landscape of Northamptonshire appeals to me more than the sharp peaks of northern English counties.

Meanwhile, here is a poem I chanced upon when browsing through John Clare’s poems:

Hesperus

Hesperus, the day is gone
Soft falls the silent dew
A tear is now on many a flower
And heaven lives in you.
 
Hesperus, the evening mild
Falls round us soft and sweet
‘Tis like the breathing of a child
When day and evening meet
 
Hesperus, the closing flower
Sleeps on the dewy ground
While dews fall in a silent shower
And heaven breathes around
 
Hesperus, thy twinkling ray
Beams in the blue heaven
And tells the traveller on his way
That earth shall be forgiven
                                              John Clare 1793-1864
 

I am enjoying “In search of England”. It is not a defence or promotion of my home country – more the musings of a traveller remarking upon what he has seen, conversations he has had, ideas floating around at the time. It is an easy read – and that is not faint praise but a compliment. The prose flows easily and the topics are the sort that can be read as comfortably at bed time as in a spare moment on a quiet afternoon. In my quest for resilience, a sensible evening routine is one of my goals. Late night TV often works against untroubled sleep but a book like this provides a positive note to end the day on.

I am reading the library copy, I may yet purchase one. Three or four stars, I think, or 7 and 1/2 out of 10.

P.S. Hesperus means the planet Venus when visible in the evening sky, so you could also call it the “Evening Star”.

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