Escape into fantasy: My Heavenly Favourite, by Lucas Rijneveld, reviewed

When Marieke Lucas Rijneveld won the International Booker Prize in 2020 for The Discomfort of Evening, a novel set in the Netherlands about the daughter of a dairy farmer growing up in a strict Christian household in the wake of the tragic death of her brother, the earthy, uncompromising voice was striking. The book was disturbing in its subject matter (the parents, blinded by grief, allow their remaining children to become semi-feral, experimenting with sex and death) and its visceral animal similes: bloody birth, brutal mating, culls for foot-and-mouth disease, slaughter. The ten-year-old girl protagonist had a lot in common with the author; and so it is again in My

Who would be a farmer’s wife?

On the opening page of The Farmer’s Wife, Helen Rebanks quotes George Eliot’s famous passage from Middlemarch. Dorothea adds to ‘the growing good of the world’ through her ‘unhistoric acts’ and by having ‘lived faithfully a hidden life’. With this enchanting, funny, fearless book, Rebanks brings her own ‘unhistoric’ life unequivocally out of hiding. The blood, mud, slog, exhaustion, bureaucracy and financial angst of farming are ever-present She lives with her husband James (a bestselling writer) and their four children in the Lake District on their farm shared with six sheepdogs, two ponies, 20 chickens, 500 sheep and 50 cattle. Writing in the present tense, she describes the rhythm of

Spectator Out Loud: Robert Tombs, Jamie Blackett and Tanya Gold

22 min listen

This episode of Spectator Out Loud features Professor Robert Tombs on Canada’s willingness to believe anything bad about its own history (00:55); the farmer Jamie Blackett on the harms of wild camping (12:10); and Tanya Gold on the reopening of Claridge’s Restaurant. Presented and produced by Cindy Yu.

Progress is coming to our remote corner of Kenya

Laikipia The principal of the local polytechnic was waiting for me in the kitchen. Frequently in the kitchen there is a chief or a surveyor, or geese, or the cats Omar and Bernini, the dogs Jock, Sasi and Potatoes, foundling lambs or calves gambolling about hoping for milk, or stockmen with news of a sick cow, or armed askaris clumping in after a hard night to lay assault rifles down on the counter before slurping mugs of sugar-loaded tea. Bees try to swarm behind the fridge and one day Milka, the cook, primly announced there was a big snake coiled on the shelf of pots and pans. In her Cold

Do speeding fines work?

Fine lines Would Suella Braverman be more likely to stick to the speed limit had she chosen to go on a speed awareness course instead of being fined? A government-commissioned study in 2018 looked at the reoffending rate among 1.4 million drivers who had accepted the offer of a speed awareness course and compared it with that of drivers who opted to take three points and pay a fine instead. Within two years of taking the course, around a quarter of drivers had reoffended. However, the rate was lower than it was for motorists who had chosen to pay the fine. The relative reduction of reoffending was put at 12-23%

We survived the worst drought in a generation

The Farm, Laikipia I realised the worst drought of this generation was at last over this morning when two Samburu gentlemen arrived on the farm, asking to buy rams. My nomadic neighbours sense very well when it’s time to put a tup in with the flock. In just this month a full moon and the alignment of Lokir Ai and Lakira Dorop – Jupiter and Venus – had brought six inches of downpours, equal to almost all of last year’s rain and half of the precipitation in 2021. As Mr Lemartile crouched behind my Dorper rams, happily dandling their testicles for size and girth, we caught up on gossip and

The farming year in 18th-century Sussex

You may (or may not) already know this, but researching the long 18th century in 2023 is rarely a life-affirming, paradigm-shifting conversation over wine with Plato in the groves of academe. It is seldom, even, a couple of tins of warm lager on the train home after guesting on an episode of Start the Week. It is sometimes, though, sitting in an archive transcribing the traces of long-vanished lives, conscious of the passing of time, quietly excited but still wondering if any of this actually matters, whether the partial recovery of someone else’s life really is the fullest way of living your own. Reading Ian Marchant’s deeply moving new book

What Jeremy Clarkson has in common with Beatrix Potter

Not since the pursuit of Peter Rabbit around Mr McGregor’s garden has rural drama been writ so large. From behind the wheel of his Lamborghini tractor, Jeremy Clarkson’s face crumples as the nine-ton machine rolls back over a field mouse – only to erupt into joy as the mouse emerges unscathed from beneath the wheel. A decade ago, the Top Gear host was fending off outrage after sharing on Twitter an image of a rodent squashed by the show’s film crew. Today, the petrolhead is a man transformed, his compassion for nature and enthusiasm for rural life lighting up our screens in Clarkson’s Farm, the Amazon Prime series documenting his attempts to run

Is Credit Suisse the tornado on the banking horizon?

Headlines about ‘alarm over CreditSuisse’ might be read as a sign of normality in financial news, rather than the reverse. The second-ranked Swiss bank (behind UBS) has slipped on so many banana skins in recent years that, as I wrote in February: ‘I sometimes wonder how and why it survives.’ As a recognised basket-case, its difficulties are not usually seen as harbingers of systemic trouble. But in the Kwarteng-induced febrile mood of London’s markets, the question has to be asked. This is October, the devil’s favourite month for provoking crashes. Could Credit Suisse be the tornado on banking’s horizon? Amid rumours of critical balance-sheet weakness, Credit Suisse’s shares have fallen

My revealing phone call from Ben Wallace

My phone buzzed and rang while I was doing the horses until I thought, fine, I’ll call the Defence Secretary back. I sat down on a picnic chair by the muck heap and dialled. He was extremely courteous. He just wanted to point out that he really didn’t want to be Prime Minister. The profile I had written of him was very good, he said, but the one thing he wanted to put me straight on was, well, the whole premise of the article. He didn’t want the top job, no matter what I had heard. I told him my sources were impeccable. He didn’t need to be so modest.

Boris’s rewilding obsession could backfire

Does Boris Johnson have the faintest idea what he and his government are trying to achieve anymore? I ask because of the Prime Minister’s ‘grow for Britain’ strategy which has been leaked to the Daily Telegraph. The strategy, due to be launched on Monday, apparently demands that farmers grow more fruit and vegetables to make us less reliant on imported food, especially in the face of the Ukraine crisis – which has created the headache of how to continue production and exports from one of Europe’s most agricultural nations. To this end, the grow for Britain strategy will, it is said, commit to ‘changes to planning rules to make it

Farmers vs rewilders: can they find their common ground?

Our age isn’t the first to set an English landscape of our dreams against the one which actually exists, or see earning a living from the land as something base and destructive. The tension has always been there between people who work the land and the utopian dreamers for whom every mark of the plough is a scar. Farmers bristle at talk of countryside utopias and rewilding, and passionate wilders can’t see why land managers do things which they think are harmful to the land. Both groups complain about being misunderstood by the other, all the while failing to spot that the much more profound threat to the countryside comes

Letters: What happened to hymns in schools?

Disarming by default Sir: Underpinning Rod Liddle’s amusing article on use of nuclear weapons last week is the reassurance provided by our deterrent (‘Will Putin go nuclear?’, 7 May). It is not difficult to imagine Putin’s behaviour if Russia alone possessed nuclear weapons. Our nation has embarked on refreshing the deterrent; and replacement of the four ballistic missile submarines, modifications to missiles and production of a new warhead are at the very limit of our nation’s industrial capability. Despite the US being extremely helpful, the performance of the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) does not inspire confidence. It is crucial that there is sufficient funding, particularly at AWE, over the next

Letters: To achieve net zero, we need to go nuclear

Nuclear future Sir: It is refreshing to see Martin Vander Weyer note that, properly and fully costed, nuclear power is cheaper than power from wind and solar sources (Any other business, 26 March). That is because, as he says, ‘wind and solar require excess capacity and battery storage to compensate for periods of low output’. It cannot be predicted when those periods of low output will occur, and the proportion of our electricity provided by wind at any one time can be anywhere between 2 per cent and 40 per cent. Martin supports the aim to meet 25 per cent of UK energy needs using nuclear by the net-zero deadline

I won’t ever look at cows the same way again: Andrea Arnold’s Cow reviewed

The latest film from Andrea Arnold (Red Road, Fish Tank, American Honey) is a feature-length documentary about a cow, starring a cow, with almost nothing else in it, apart from this cow. It feels like a test. Can I watch a cow for 93 minutes? What does this cow do that’s so interesting? I see cows all the time from the train and they just sort of lounge about, ruminating, don’t they? But this wants you to look, really look, at what it is to be a cow. And you do and you will invest. (Oh, Luma.) Arnold spent four years, off and on, filming Luma, a cow at a

Will the energy price spike bring down Boris?

What does the new year have in store for consumers — and families trying to make ends meet? A stumbling recovery at best, with a continuing tide of inflation that I predict will swiftly pass the Bank of England’s current forecast of ‘around 6 per cent by spring 2022’ and take much longer to turn than the Bank’s Cnut-like posturing seeks to suggest. And driving that surge will be the energy price spike, which could be the factor — far more potent than endemic sleaze and proven incompetence — that topples the Johnson regime. Fact: wholesale natural gas prices have quadrupled in the past year. They may drop again in

Where in the world will you find the cheapest petrol?

Whole-life sentences How many prisoners are serving whole-life sentences? — There are currently 74 prisoners in prison with whole-life tariffs; 11 had the tariff imposed by a home secretary and 63 had it imposed by a judge. There are only two women, including Rosemary West. — A further 29 people have at some point been given whole-life tariffs but have had them reduced on appeal, or been released under the Good Friday Agreement. — 22 prisoners have died while serving whole-life sentences. — The prisoner who has served the longest sentence is Robert Maudsley, who was jailed for one murder in 1977 and was given a whole-life sentence after committing

James Bond and the Beatles herald a new Britain

The word ‘magisterial’ consistently attaches itself to the work of David Kynaston. His eye-wateringly exhaustive four-volume history of the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street established him as a historian with a confident command of a huge body of information, as bloodless and dry as the subject was. Embarking on Tales of a New Jerusalem, a history of Britain from 1945 to 1979, he has undertaken another marathon and earned magisterial rank. Yet, from the first, Kynaston has shown that he is prepared to leave the bench to sweep the Ealing and Islington Local History Centres, Wandsworth Library, the East Riding Archives and especially that extraordinary resource, the Mass Observation Archive,

You need to be a millionaire to move to Wales

We began searching for the farm of our dreams in Wales as we planned our escape from Surrey. The problem was, so did every other dreamer in London and the south-east of England. Since lockdown, the rush to perform ‘lifestyle change’ has sent the price of the valleys sky high. In fact, I would go so far as to say that Welsh farmers must be downsizing to townhouses in Chelsea. We were already quite down. It was sad to be served notice on the land we have been renting to keep our horses. We knew we had to buy our own land this time. We quickly ruled out staying here.

Letters: In defence of organic food

A note about manure Sir: I am afraid Matt Ridley shows a lack of understanding about agriculture in general and organic production in particular in his argument against organic food (‘Dishing the dirt’, 24 July). Livestock production has involved the use of animal faeces — or farmyard manure as it is called when mixed with straw — ever since livestock was first housed in the 1800s. Bacterial infections are due to poor hygiene in the slaughter and processing chain, not how animals are fed, grass is produced, or the use of manure, which is an important by-product. Bean sprouts being infected with E.coli is probably down to poor hygiene of