In Sight of Yellow Mountain: A Year in the Irish Countryside by Philip Judge
I read a review of this in the Irish Independent recently, Judge was compared to James Herriot and as I love Herriot’s book and enjoy writing by smallholders and farmers, I was really looking forward to this.
Philip Judge moved to Wicklow with his family, to a cottage on an acre. Working as an actor occasionally in Dublin, he has plenty of time for “living the dream” in the Irish countryside. He regales us with tales of planting, weeding and harvesting vegetables. He goes to witness the slaughter of two pet lambs that they reared (although I think of lot of their grazing and care happened on the neighbour’s farm), and recounts the shooting of rabbits, pigeons and pheasants, all of which he is happy to pluck / skin, clean out and prepare for their dinners. The book contains some recipes which is a nice touch but I thought it was a pity it didn’t share his learning about growing vegetables, what worked and what didn’t. While he does poke fun at himself at times, I thought more self deprecating humour would have worked well.
The book’s structure follows the year from Lughnasa to Bealtaine and the Lughnasa Redux. I found the first half of the book to be reasonably enjoyable. Judge waxed lyrical about the beauties of the landscape which included Sliabh Bui (the yellow mountain) and as they harvested their fruits and vegetables, he reflected on how it was no surprise that harvest festivals were such an important part of the calendar. He also shares various folk tales and superstitions that he comes across and has researched – at length.
James Herriot it is not. While I loved Herriot’s descriptions of his Yorkshire Dales, the descriptions of the Wicklow hills just became too repetitive. I got a bit bored and skimread the second half. Ten pages of a near death experience and a long stay in hospital didn’t add anything to the story in my opinion, nor did the lengthy description of the birth of Older Boy.
His partner is called “the Beloved” throughout which became irritating. Add to that Older Boy, Younger Boy, Male Farmer Friend, Female Farmer Friend, Got a Few Bob Friend, Fond Aunt and a few others and I felt I didn’t get to know any of the characters particularly well. Whatever happened to just changing their names to Tom, Dick and Harry or whatever?
He does make efforts to understand farming; he visited a factory and an abattoir; he asks questions of his neighbouring farmers; he helps out with difficult lambings and calvings; his personal ambition seems to be to keep the cottage stove going with wood he has sawn from fallen trees and boughs on his neighbour’s farm; the family take part in local fetes and enter their culinary delights in local shows; he takes part in a dancing competition for the local GAA – I can’t fault their efforts in terms to embracing rural and local life.
I think if I hadn’t read a review which compared it to James Herriot, I’d have thought more highly of it. I’m sure this book will be enjoyed by those who dream of living on an acre in the countryside while still working in the city at times but it didn’t hold enough humour or substance for me.
It’s well produced, an attractive cover with numerous pencil drawings interspersed among the text. There’s a photo of Judge inside the back cover looking the part as a country squire. He’s definitely enjoying the lifestyle. Well done to him – it’s good to see.
Hens, Hooves, Woollies and Wellies: The Diary of a Farmer’s Wife by Bobbi Mothersdale
This book is beautifully produced with good quality paper and a really attractive cover. It is constructed just like a diary with an entry for every day of the year. The problem is that there are days when not very much happens, as is normal in life so some entries just don’t make very interesting reading. I thought a “best of the week” approach would be more entertaining.
They live on a mixed farm: arable, sheep, poultry and suckler cows – not to mention the rats that the dogs are good at catching but not quite good enough to get rid of them as they keep cropping up.
There is good humour within the explanations and descriptions of the farming life – little things like how her alphabet cutters for pastry means that each pie now can be “labelled” and John doesn’t have to experience cutting into a meat and potato pie when he is expecting a fruit dessert again. Experiences such as a visiting vegetarian dog stuffing itself on a meat dinner and breakouts of various livestock are funny as well as perhaps typical of farm life so farming readers will empathise with many situations and compare their own lives to it. However, there isn’t as much humour as the blurb on the back might have you believe.
The tone is very conversational but I felt the book needed another edit to be honest. There was the occasional typo too which didn’t bother me (and indeed, as a self published author, part of me quite likes spotting them in traditionally published books).
A Year in the Life of the Yorkshire Shepherdess by Amanda Owen
This is Owen’s second book. Her first one told the story of her determination to work with sheep, meeting and marrying Clive in the Yorkshire Dales and the birth of their first few children – along with lots of farm adventures along the way of course. This title sounds like it will focus on one year in Amanda’s life and yes, it does have a chapter for each month in the year, and it then contains relevant flashbacks to adventures and escapades and happenings in the same month during previous years. Stories are funny, poignant, occasionally tragic, and provide a realistic look at farming. Owen comes across as a very pragmatic no-nonsense kind of person who takes things like having a home birth or finding that the vehicle she is driving has suddenly got a life of its own with a pinch of salt.
There are some nice one-liners in the book too – usually things uttered by her husband Clive, who seems even more the type of person who doesn’t suffer fools gladly.
Have you seen the recent book(s) by James Rebanks (@herdyshepherd1 on Twitter?) about farming Herdwicks and Swaledale sheep in the Lake District? They are very good on the family farming (Grand-dad, Father, then him and kids) and lovely on the “hefting” of sheep to particular chunks of mountain/dale (the way she sheep come to know the turf over the generations, and the ewes know all the places to hide up or lamb in bad weather. I found them gorgeous throughout.
Lorna Post author
Yes, I’ve read his first book “The Shepherd’s Life” and really enjoyed. I haven’t got his second one as yet – it’s mostly photographs I think.
Have you read any by Roy Evans? Nice writing style.
No. Not ‘found’ him yet. Yes, James Rebanks 2nd is a lot of pics and poems and quotes, rather than a biog per se. Nice, but not the same.
Lorna Post author
Simon Dawson is another author – a smallholder in Devon, I liked his first book the best
Lorna, have you ever read, “Any Fool can be a Dairy Farmer” by James Robertson. If you haven’t, it’s a hilarious read which all us guys can relate to. He has a few others too relating to farming. If you want to be giggling away while reading, this is for you!!
Lorna Post author
I have Agatha and agree, it’s brilliant. He also wrote “Any fool can be a pig farmer” which is almost as good. I just preferred the dairy one as we’re dairy farmers.
I also like Roy Evans’ books – not particularly funny but he has a nice writing style with dry humour.
I must look him up, always good to realise that what happens on your own farm which seems a disaster at the time often has a funny side!
Lorna Post author
Yes, I think it’s the near disasters that make the best stories.
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