Reviewer: Simon Topping
Patrick Barkham has a lot of ground to cover in such a short time. In his new book Islander, Barkham has visited an astonishing amount of the British archipelago in his search for the quirks, joys and challenges of small island living.
Inspired by the D H Lawrence story The Man Who Loved Islands, where a man purchases and moves to a succession of increasingly smaller land masses until he goes mad, Barkham first of all visited The Isle of Man and progressively moved on to smaller communities until he ended up on Ray in Essex for 36 idyllic hours his wife derides as “sad” because she cannot fathom how he can describe a day and a half on his own in such a tiny, baron place as his “favourite time ever”.
An engaging and enthusiastic speaker Barkham draws the audience in with endearing and funny stories about his travels and his family. One particular funny instance, although perhaps not at the time it happened, is the story of his young toddler’s first boat travel to the Isles of Silly where said son projectile vomited all the way over.
Recovering from this experience Barkham goes on to travel more, both with and without his family. On Orkney, he wonders how a different species of vole has arrived there. The only other place this rodent is found is in Belgium. Did they swim over in the Neolithic? Where they brought over as pets? In the end, a more gruesome explanation is finally posited.
Fabulous facts hit us at a rapid rate. Not many people know that St Kilda is not only a UNESCO world heritage site but also a military base where Britain tests weapons of mass destruction. More benignly, or you would think so, The Isle of Man is home to a population of approximately 100 red-necked wallabies, all progeny from a couple of zoo escapees forty years ago. Even this has it’s effect on Island wildlife though, as hen harriers believe, the marsupials are people when on hind legs and fail to roost there anymore.
As the talk goes on we find out small island life liberates you from choice but can also pose as a trap. There are pros and cons to every way of life but Barkham believes in these uncertain times island life will thrive as people seek out alternative ways of living. The island of Egg has seen its population grow from 80 to 130, in part down to the affordable housing and attractive way of living. Most of our small islands he has visited has also seen growth.
Barkham leaves us with this thought, “I’ve always seen island life as a Swiss army knife, once you are there you have to be able to do a bit of everything to survive.” Whilst this can be a struggle, it is a way of life more people are adopting. Let us hope this remains true.
This is a very interesting romp into the inner working of these worlds. Both fascinating and entertaining leaving the crowd wanting to seek out a small place in a quiet corner to call home for themselves.
Reviewed on 14 July 2018 | Image: Contributed