Bruce Fogle: Discovering a place in the natural world at the Swindon Festival of Literature

6 May
Bruce Fogle

Bruce Fogle

6 May 2015. Discovering a place in the natural world at the Swindon Festival of Literature or:  Don’t Judge a book by its cover.

“I dressed and went for a walk – determined not to return until I took in what Nature had to offer.”
 – Raymond Carver, This Morning.

Suffering for my art – yet stoic in the execution of my Festival Chronicle duties I arrived at Swindon Arts Centre in a sodden and sorry state after the third drenching of the day and it was still only midday.

I’d been dispatched there by Festival Chronicle HQ to cover the Swindon Literature Festival appearance of Bruce Fogle – and if the name sounds familiar you’re not wrong – but more of that later.

Bruce Fogle is a former zoo worker, practicing vet and best-selling writer. Not on the face of it the kind of ‘thing’ that would be high on my list of things with which to engage – I’m not exactly at one with the natural world at the best of times. And especially not after mice in the conservatory, rats infesting the loft and more than the occasional frog startling me in the garden. Or maybe that’s more a case of me startling the frogs. Anyway. This all goes to prove the old adage about not judging a book by its cover – literally in this case because, despite my trepidation, Mr Fogle’s talk turned out to be an enchanting prequel – his words – to his book Barefoot at the Lake: A boyhood summer in Cottage Country.

Speaking in an accent he immediately clarified as being Canadian, Mr Fogle kicked off by apologising for not being his famous son Ben Fogle. He then went on to deliver a slide show that, together with his talk, was a charming transportation back to 1954 and the 10 yr old Bruce holidaying, as he did every year, at the family’s lakeside cottage in Canada: a period that defined his latent interest in, and affinity with, the natural world.

As we looked at the slides of lovely family snaps taken in a time and a place that were, by his own admission, idyllic, I was transported back for a short time to my own childhood. Not that I was lucky enough to spend it fishing and generally having jolly japes by a Canadian lake. Very Famous Five! No, far from it. But I grew up in a similar era – that of the late 1950s and early 1960s in a corner of rural Derbyshire which, if you ignored the slag heap and the pit winding wheel on the edge of the village was really very lovely. As Mr Fogle’s childhood was spent in the woods and lakes of his corner of Canada mine was spent wandering across the fields and the country lanes. I used to know the names of many flowers and trees – all long forgotten now that I’m a well-established softy southern urbanite. So it was lovely to be reminded of a softer, gentler, somewhat more innocent time, a time when I wasn’t quite so at odds with nature as I am now – especially on a cold and blustery day in May.

Perhaps unsurprisingly on such a wet, windy weekday lunchtime the audience was small and mostly senior. Maybe it’s only the unemployed, the self-employed and the retired that have the time and opportunity to attend lunchtime talks. Which is a pity because this was a delightful, thoughtful and engaging hour with a charming gentleman who, in festival director Matt Holland’s words, delivered a well-told story. A tale of the beauty and bounty of nature and also its awfulness – in the older meaning of that word as being something that inspires awe. Which he did. And were it not for Festival Chronicle I wouldn’t have given it a second look.

Words by Angela Atkinson. Angela also blogs as Born Again Swindonian. Photo (C) Calyx Pictures.

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