My new book takes what I hope is a radically different approach to the question of rural England. Here is a short abstract from the opening chapter.
"It is late when I arrive at the crossroads. A Thursday evening in November is approaching the time of twilight. The stubble fields behind me appear grey in the ebbing light, but ahead there is a startling mix of ripened auburn leaves, still green grass and golden seedheads. The eye can’t help but follow the line of the road on the far side of the intersection, drawn to a vague horizon that merges with soft clouds like distant smoke.
Leaving London is like climbing up a very old tree. You start by crawling up the trunk and then take the biggest branch off to the left or right at the first opportunity. Keep turning along smaller and smaller boughs until you arrive at the final forked twig. I am not actually that far from the crown of the tree if I’m honest. This may not be the Home Counties but it’s scarcely the provinces. Since leaving London I haven’t passed through any towns or built-up areas, but I know I’m in “the countryside” now as I’ve just driven through a village with numerous thatched cottages, and the road is barely wide enough for two cars. Still, according to the estate agents, I am within 'easy reach”' of one of the most cosmopolitan cities on Earth."
For more about Return of a Native, click here.
Ostensibly about the life of a British Army base on Salisbury Plain, Khaki Country engages with the contemporary politics of rural England on several levels: from the army's environmental footprint to questions of public access and the right to roam; from the preservation of symbolic archaeological sites to the material traces of the violent colonial past inscribed on the countryside; from the pressures of army family housing to the lack of infrastructure in small rural towns; and of course, the wider impact of this sprawling army community on the economic, cultural and social life of the area.
This is not simply a remote army training area, hidden from public view by virtue of its location in a landscape once referred to as "inhospitable wilds" by Melville in Moby Dick. First purchased in 1897, the territory owned by the Ministry of Defence has recently been designated a “supergarrison”, subject to considerable expansion as a result of political decisions made in Whitehall during and after the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. What does this expansion mean for the people who already live in the area? What is it like to live alongside the British Army in the 21st century?
Co-authored with Antonia Dawes, Mitra Pariyar and Alice Cree, our book will be published by Manchester University Press in 2024.