There was an event in North Norfolk last weekend of such significance that I’m unsure whether to write about it or stay silent. You know how it is when you stumble down a track, a path that’s barely marked, into a small valley, a bay where the apples and other fruit trees have gone back to wilderness and there’s no boat drawn up on the white sands of the shore? Do you tell anyone about it?
Two schoolteachers pushed through into actuality their vision of a Festival of Nature Writing. It worked. Far at the back of this is the fact that ‘Pastoral’ is an important option in the A Level English syllabus. What happened was that a collection of speakers and poets were gathered in, perhaps a little randomly, who could give voice to their concerns, their beliefs, their connectedness to the life that we share this planet with.
Richard Mabey, who I’d long held onto some suspicion against as a possible exploiter of nature, turned out to be a man troubled and passionate, battling to work out the how and what of our closeness to our neighbours: Patrick Barkham is sweetness itself, yet ready to risk what some might call earthly happiness for an obsession with insects skimming in and out of extinction as their habitats are wrecked.
Peter Sansom and I came in on the end of this and ran a pretty starry writing workshop. But what was remarkable was how the speakers/writers selected by those two schoolteachers chimed in together.
The pastoral is obviously our base. Our food and life comes from earth. The intelligence and curiosity shown by both the speakers and the audience is a clear indication that these preoccupations are most important.
My celebratory congratulations to Greshams and to all involved in the festival. I’ve one question: where were the rest of Norfolk’s literary giants?