Blacktop Rain

…and other secret joys


London’s Natural History by R.S.R. Fitter


Feeding the pigeons in front of St Paul’s Cathedral – colour plate from London’s Natural History

This post is part of a series called Small Rain, exploring the history of urban nature writing.

London’s Natural History charts the natural history of London from its pre-historic, geological formation, through the Romans, the medieval period (when kites were a common London bird), the expansion of the city from the fifteenth century onwards, and on to its final bursting point in the mid-nineteenth century. It then looks at the various human impacts on the city’s flora and fauna in the present day (the present day being 1945), including the influence of traffic, refuse disposal, agriculture and the recent war. Whilst the history of London is interesting, it is the snapshot of London in 1945 that I find the most fascinating. For example, Fitter mentions the abundance of sparrows in London, according to Fitter they are the only London bird considered to be a Cockney. Since then the number of sparrows in London has drastically declined – by 60% between 1994 and 2004 according to the RSPB. On the other hand, he mentions the recent increase in the number of gulls in London, a bird that is still increasing in urban areas. Continue reading


Why are you learning Dutch?


Me, being Dutch

I get asked that question a lot, especially by Dutch people – even by the Dutch person who is supposed to be teaching me Dutch. At this point I have a set of pre-prepared answers I can rattle out: because I think it’s rude to live in a country and not make an effort to learn the language; because despite repeated assertions from Dutch people that everyone here speaks English, everyone in fact speaks Dutch; because I’d like to be able to understand the announcements on the train; because I thought it would help me find a job. All of these reasons are true, but at this point I don’t think they are the reasons that motivate me to keep trying.

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Nature Near London by Richard Jefferies


Richard Jefferies

This post is part of a series called Small Rain, exploring the history of urban nature writing.

Although Nature Near London is maybe more accurately classified as suburban nature writing, the ‘near’ in the title giving it away, it would feel remiss to begin this series with any other book. After all, a genre doesn’t spring up fully formed over night and part of the aim of this series of blog posts is to explore the evolution of urban nature writing as a sub-species distinct from nature writing (and if, indeed, it is possible to define the genre at all). With Nature Near London the seed of an idea was being sown – the idea that it is not necessary to turn ones back on the city to find nature. I also include Jefferies’ book because the city, London, looms large; it is a presence that forms a counter-point to the places Jefferies explores. It also looms large in Jefferies’ own mind, and magnetised him even as he seeks to escape it. Continue reading

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A home out of this world


The stars over Belgium by S Cappallo

I’m fascinated by sense of home. I’m not sure why but I often find myself feeling overwhelming nostalgic for moments and places where I have felt that sense of being at home: the living room of my childhood home, the dryer is on and the windows are fogged up; it’s autumn in St Andrews and there are leaves in the sea; the smell of coal fires filling the air on cold Cornish nights; summer evenings at Wollaton Park. I even sometimes feel anticipatory nostalgia for Amsterdam. Seemingly small things, like fogged up windows, can take us back to a particular time and place, tying us to that moment.
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The war on pigeons

For some reason, my boyfriend and I decided that the end of the summer would be a good time to finally get started on the balcony. In fact, we’ve been meaning to do something about it for the past year and a half, since we moved into our apartment. It’s a great balcony. It’s really spacious and instead of looking out onto a road, it faces onto a courtyard. There’s just one problem: other residents had got there before us. Pigeons. Continue reading


How do you treat your books?

I’m reading a collection of essays at the moment called Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman. The essays explore the various aspects of the reading and writing life, such as: how to marry someone else’s books, messages on flyleaves, You-Are-There reading, the pitfalls of being a compulsive proofreading and plagiarism. However, I particularly enjoyed the essay ‘Never Do That To A Book’ about how people treat their books.

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