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Digressions of a Rural Dissident

by Jamie Blackett

Jamie Blackett has a particularly attractive way with words. It’s not just his vivid and humorous descriptions of rural life and farming on the beautiful Arbigland peninsula on the Solway Firth in Dumfries and Galloway that command such appeal. It is more the natural humanity and warmth of his writing where the reader feels as one with Jamie as the clattering train hurtles towards him carrying every conceivable challenge of holding an estate together in ‘Sturgeon’s Stalinist SNP Scotland’, and in a UK where livestock farming is almost done.

His account in the book’s prologue of burying his father, the legendary and much loved ‘Beachie’ Blackett, is both moving and humorous. Jamie, a resilient and experienced countryman, is fearful that it is he who ‘will drop the baton after seven centuries of land ownership’ in his family, either in Scotland or the North of England. Of course, this has the makings of the classic plot structure, ‘The Quest’: the hero learns of his goal, in Jamie’s case to keep his estate, and we, the readers, are invited to go on the journey with him. ‘I have a journey, Sir, shortly to go’ (King Lear). As Jamie says at the end of the prologue, ‘I had to find a way through it all. But how?’

Jamie is courageous to admit that things were looking bleak in 2019. The clattering train of supermarkets and beef processors sucking up any profit; the effects of Brexit when many farmers who voted to bring down bureaucracy were tripped up by reduced subsidies and cheap imports; and then the vegan and climate change mob or ‘watermelons’ (green on the outside but red to the core) headed by Chris Packham. Just remember that great line from the poet Yeats, ‘The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity’.

It all led to some gut-wrenching periods of self-examination and reappraisal of how Jamie would make ends meet. Many in his position would reach out for hare-brained schemes.  Jamie, ever the pragmatist, reluctantly decided that the beef herd would have to go and dairy, rather counter-intuitively, would take precedence, helped by farming partners who knew their business and an agricultural bank manager who knew his customers.

There is a certain type of person who shouts at the news on television, particularly ‘Question Time’ but Jamie, only occasionally on the cusp of a rant, takes a considered look at rural life in all its current complexity. As a ‘townie’ with childhood holidays always in south Cornwall, I found myself much taken by Jamie’s description of the sheer majesty of our natural world and the hard facts of sheep or potato farming: 3k per acre of potatoes, but 24 hours under water, (flooding hopelessly managed by the Environment Agency) and the crop’s useless.

Jamie is a fine writer with a great sense of place and history. I much enjoyed his description of classical Marxist doctrine and how it’s being deployed by the ‘watermelons’ today: corrupt the young, divide people into hostile groups (metropolitan vs rural Britain), encourage civil disorder (extinction rebellion), breakdown old moral virtues (today’s culture wars) and it’s 1789/1917 or Year Zero in Cambodia 1975.

Jamie finds an unlikely bedfellow in George Galloway, the courageous and almost impossible to pigeon-hole former Labour MP for Glasgow Hillhead. Galloway was the only Labour MP to support a memorial to Bomber Command. They jointly founded All for Unity, a Scottish party to defend British unity in the face of Sturgeon’s SNP commissariat and its ‘neverendum’ on Scottish independence. It’s all good fun and although they only win 0.9% of the vote in the 2021 Scottish Parliament election, they land some solid blows on the SNP’s pretensions.

Land of Milk and Honey is a book with great variety and change of pace. The descriptions of rural life, its seasonal rhythms, the grandeur of nature and all its creatures are a joy to read.

Our hero gets there in the end. Covid had few blessings but once the dreary lockdowns drifted away, people were desperate to get out into the countryside. And what better countryside than the Arbigland peninsula. Domestic tourism booms, Jamie’s holiday cottages are fully let (Rishi’s millions helped him during the darkest periods) and Brexit (Jamie was a reluctant remainer) encouraged him to wean the estate off subsidies and concentrate on new, innovative ways of farming and estate management. The green light at Arbigland stretches far into the future.

This is Jamie’s third book after the critically acclaimed The Enigma of Kidson and Red Rag to a Bull. He has more than found his stride and I hope that estate commitments permitting, he will find time to enthral his readers once again.

Paul de Zulueta

Quiller Publishing Ltd     


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