« Desert Island Discs

Robert Macfarlane, writer

2021-07-25 | 🔗
Robert Macfarlane is a writer whose books about the natural world, including The Wild Places and The Old Ways, have won many prizes and taken root in the best-seller charts. He was born into a family of enthusiastic amateur climbers and his early memories include being carried up the Cairngorms on his father's back. This childhood experience led to a lifelong passion, and inspired his first book, Mountains of the Mind, about the complex human fascination with mountains. His interest in the wider natural world also developed from a young age, and much of his writing focuses on the environments around us and how we relate to them. In The Wild Places, he travelled to marshes and moors, cliff-tops and beaches, in search of remaining areas of wilderness in the British Isles. In The Old Ways, he headed out on foot, following often ancient pathways through a range of landscapes, both in Britain and beyond. His book The Lost Words, created with the artist Jackie Morris and published in 2017, became a phenomenon. It highlighted how words such as bluebell, conker, heron and kingfisher were disappearing from modern British childhoods. It's been adapted for performance and widely distributed in schools and care homes. Robert is Director of Studies in English at Emmanuel College, Cambridge. He is married to Professor Julia Lovell and they have three children. DISC ONE: Nature Boy by Nat King Cole DISC TWO: The Ghost of O'Donahue by Johnny Flynn DISC THREE: California Dreamin by The Mamas And The Papas DISC FOUR: Birdhouse In Your Soul by They Might Be Giants DISC FIVE: Blessing by The Lost Words DISC SIX: Four Ethers by Serpentwithfeet DISC SEVEN: The Swimming Song by Loudon Wainwright III DISC EIGHT: Messiaen: Quartet for the End of Time (third movement) performed by Claude Desurmont (clarinet) BOOK CHOICE: Collected works of Gerard Manley Hopkins LUXURY ITEM: A chilli plant CASTAWAY'S FAVOURITE: The Ghost of O'Donahue by Johnny Flynn Presenter Lauren Laverne Producer Sarah Taylor
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
Bbc sounds music. Radio, podcasts, hello, I'm Lauren Laverne, and this is the desert island discs podcast. Every week I ask my guests to choose the eight tracks book and luxury they'd want to take with them if they were cast away to a desert island. rights reasons the music is shorter than the original. Broadcast. I hope you enjoy listening. The My castaway this week is the author and teacher robert macfarlane, one of Britain's foremost writers on nature. His books, including the wild places the old ways and love
box of one many prizes and taken root in the best seller lists. There also shape in the way readers of all ages feel about the world around us. His children's book, the last words with illustrations by Jackie morris, became a phenomenon highlighting the language that was disappearing from british childhoods words like bluebell and conquer his most recent work on the land is an epic subterranean history of everything from the cattle of paris to an english forests. Four hundred million euro network of funding, though his love of the natural world, began at a considerably higher altitude he grew up in a family mountaineers and spent holidays. Exploring the can gums nurturing a fascination which inspired his breakthrough, davy mountains of the mind. He says my heart is made of mountains and always will be. They will my first love and they will be the last robert macfarlane welcome to desert island discs earlier learn
so he started with your headed the cloud then Robert. When you began working or mountains of the mind. What was it exactly that you wanted to explore? What lunches just seized me? They were where I wanted to be afraid, do they were where I thought I would die, and that was stupid of me, but that was the force with which they my heart in my mind, and that became a puzzle to me a little bit later in my early twenties. I suddenly forgot: what is this strange dance that I'm doing this absurd, odd compulsion that I'm subject to, and I realise that I want to tee understand that, even as overstepping away from it and to understand that I needed to go hundreds of years back in history, because that is where the forces began that now draw so many of us up to the summit. You ve said about people you ve heed that call that they hurriedly travelled and tops remains a half in love with themselves and half in love with oblivion, which says Mary rock n roll. It do you need.
A devil may care stricken, as that was being present in you. I never think of us over the devil may care, but perhaps as a climber at times I have been, there is selfishness in extreme climbing and the It's selfishness in that summit, selfie as it were, that draws people at risk of their lives to the summit of everest every. Yet to get that ultimate, some itself, he said there is a. There is a selfish, the asylum system to it, but is also self abolition in mountains. They melting because they exist. They live in deep time in ways that obsolete he dissolve human units of being, and I find that humbling and modest work that they deem much more interesting nowadays than the kind of building narrative rubbia, sharing your discs with us today and your writings actually often described as having a musical quality and written songs. Itself, so I'm guessing that music is important to you, yes mean it just flows,
in my life. I have no musical talent as an instrumentalist as it were. I sing enthusiastically but badly a bit like I write, poetry really, but yeah its crucial to me. I listen while I write. I listen in my memory when I walk and while I climb musics kept me company on the page and and in the main intent on the path so yeah, let's diving, sk number one. Then, if you owed its not can coals version of nature boy guess I am a bit the nature boy. But I also think it's just actually gorgeous that voice of his that famous voices in lyrically. I think it's on the most perfect songs. I know it's about this. You know said boy who travels melancholy and bittersweet very far very far, but he learns one thing. The greatest thing you'll ever learn is just too low beloved in return, and that seems to me an unforgettable.
trees this he said, agrees there is charles to love and the law Indeed we turn vultures by not kinkel robert macfarlane. Many people talked about finding solace in the natural during the course of the current pandemic, some doing so for the first time and has been a lot of discussion about how time in nature can be good for our mental and physical health. What's your take on that phenomenon, thinkers
each opportunity, people who, in a way he'd, never noticed the need for nature for near by nature, find it therefore them giving anchor points, giving orientation in perspective, consolation, tiny moments of of wonder and joy, and that's lincoln and even those who drink deep of the natural world, I think drank drank deeper, is a note of caution that should go alongside these new explorations. We shouldn't take for granted what we have we ve lost so much as so many bird species. We record of our mammals in this country on the red list. We have so many bird species that have the plummeting this. Starling the curl, either turtle doves. We we now
what we need. Now we ve been reminded of deeply spiritually. We are made and remade recreated and sustained and healed by the natural world, but it needs our help to me. I know that you not the biggest fan of the ten nature writing, but there is an artistic traditional that you're part of an it's been at the moment there's a vicarious joy. I think, and experiencing nature three language through media, but nature writing if we want to call it that has been happening in this island group asked for whatever thousand years some domestics in writing. I know is early celtic, christine devotional, monastic, writing kind of field notes these failed from islands and headlands, where monks had gone in search if eternity and divinity and found them in birdsong and wave and shoreline that utterly beautiful. They ring so clearly across fourteen hundred years rubber. It's time for your next piece of me
today, second desk, what is it and why you, taking with you to the island school, just reducing, By seeing some right could Johnny flynn ass, my walking sung, I know Johnny now I write music with him now, but I knew this song long before I knew johnny and I don't think I could ever listen it very. I know every note of every song of chinese music. I think is the one and it's the one set my my pace tune. Mountains on the law, pause and journeys voices just weathered rock really is wise.
It's time the day you know be. You won't know what you'll say. The road remains from place to place. The in the spring. Things came alive when I knew that one mon falling in law and the ghost of heat by johnny flynn wrote, but let's go back a bit then, when preparing for our conversation today, I found a lovely folks who have used total up with white blonde hair peeking out with a baby carrier on your dad's shoulders, both of you looking quite wind swept, I have to say you were born, then into a maintained, loving family. Tell me more about that. Yes, I know that photo is. I was taking what we call.
the data via the elevator up tucked in their little orange rucksack and do the same to my children night. My listless does it get on the detonator, so my grandparents, on my mother's side- lift up in the congo. So we would often go that that was the mountain range. I suppose right I learned matters. and to walk into be in winter ski a little bit and my parents have been amazing to me my all my family's medical ready, my father's, a professor chess medicine, I retired my brother's chest medicines The consultants up in the northeast, my mom worked in diabetic for clinic, and I was all about words into really know what to do, but they never blinked. They just encouraged man enabled me, mom. Has this astonishing sense of wonder she's there there in the seventies now- and still amazed every day by something and wants to tell me about it. tuesday nights and that's a gift is in energy and my father
Deeply wise man, a man of huge integrity, a very strong public service ethos, which I think is partly what made me become a teacher feeling of wanting to give epa. He loved swirled as well as yea swimming, is his his voice, jumping into cold water much colder than I can do. Mum to you grow up in nottinghamshire, it's quite a free range childhood for union little brother year was it was we grow, grew up at the end of the country lane we had horses and sheep in the fields and are we gather the damsons the hedgerows may ice cream wicker crawling around and running, and it was a lie filled with animals and with space and eleven does always liked her? My may I never offered to take the dog for what I have to confess that here time number three: what are we gonna hear california, driven by the members in the papers, this trick this reminds me of my dad's getting over the border into scotland having driven up
from nazi and where we were living on. The way to the kangaroo arms and we'd get to the shores of lawful omens made have been gang survivors x, seven hours. Are you pull a car over and leap out of the car and stripped answers, sorry, serene costume and leap into local omened and just just slightly self the journey and be joyful it being back in scotland and then aid it get back in the car and wait tonight,
california dream the mama's papas rubber befallen. Tell me more about yourself. It's a teenager right is necessarily sky out his readers. What we read environment is really low fir tree I was reading Seamus Heaney. I was reading Jarrett manly hopkins. As reading tat. He is reading dorothy wordsworth, with rather
enthusiasm than William, I must say, and I was starting to understand, replied he knew that language in this book seeing things that came out as I was a sick former, I flew over to belfast actually too yeah he ne read. It was an absolute rock star to me, and I heard him read at queen's and went up and shook his hand afterwards, and he you know he bent and said a few kind words to me, and I remember I didn't wash my hand for after which he would show me that language could jumper end could live its own life, it could turn tumbles. It could take two stone, it could turn to lightning and ere, it could even represent lights and those were magical powers clearly to a teenager, and I wanted to little. If those, although I never thought I'd become right, you didn't know he did go to steady english
cambridge university. Then I did yes and I went on to study a lot more of english alone. I think of myself ass, a bit more like a drug authority are working in an area. We call environmental humanity's is it, I guess, is an academic and as a team chair? So what nature and culture meets, and landscape and politics, environmentalism and the antwerp seen all mingle with one another, its interest hearing you talk about that into mingling of culture. Children and world view. I wonder when that crystallized for you because of course written about how you loved the natural world shaped your values under that you said when you are young. You came by came from the middle of the middle new middle class miller, the country, but mountains made me interesting when Do you realize that it went near the way round? His well yes shape the way you saw the well. I don't know when that happened, but at some point, language and landscape became the two things that interested me most and intellectually. I sums
I said, writes about landscape because I think of landscape as a verb, or at least denying that that hides a verb that skyping it absolutely scapes and shapes. Sculptors and it's an infinite terrain of interest, and I could never run out of things to write about to delve into ever in. I read a book about paths and took five years under pages. Nobody got going, gotta Nixon, if the museum of it. What's your next track going to be alive, you chosen it oh well, it's the glorious birdhouse in your soul by they might be giants. Irrepressible, spirits of music, brilliant lyrics this lack of their legs, but this is one of my partner. Julia we'd be married. maybe twenty one years and we met at university and she in her she's, my rock she's, my anchor she's mine. Duration. She was when I met a credible skull of Chinese here. asia, so many languages have think touched region right, casket, chinese,
and modern chinese she's gentle she's calm. She keeps me steady and yes she's this one's for her it was the son of listening to, and I was trying to work out how to make at date me am yeah. I wanted to be, as the lyrics say, the only been in her bonnet and for her to make a little birdhouse in her soul me There has been yourself they might be giants rather than
and alongside your love of nature, which is obvious, your work is infused with your passion for the english language, formal and vernacular as an extensive glossary of words in your book landmarks, for example, that includes measles, very small white round pebbles, a movie which is apparently cornish for foggy, and, of course, many listening parents will have have shared the last words with their children. Why is this idea of illiteracy, about the natural world? Important to you just seems like the simplest and most generous form of gift you could give a child would be naming and knowing the near by nature and children and natural's in nature. They they do it far better than us I dine in it, they eat it and how to stop them losing that interest. I think it's easy when that kind of money, puddles age and prepared to basically eaten insect. But what about when that teenagers will give the agency the destructive they ve got the good exams they ve got and also get them out
into it you love, I would love to see every primary school in this country twinned with a farm. I would love to see every primary school planting trees in the cities and the countryside around, and we got a huge tree planting programme. This rolling. I hope it's gonna see the right trees in the right places, but I not bind the people of the country into the trees of the country by getting the mat digging the holes healing the saplings in, and I had some of that is already happening, but we do so much more of it, and in that way we grow together. People in place. I mentioned one of your most successful books that last words with the artist Jackie more ass. It is a very large be illustrated, but with what I think you called spells, rather than poems and- and they feature words, which one point
from the children's dictionary, including acorn and bluebell, tell me a little bit more about the life of that book, because it has been extraordinary, split like you, you accidentally drop in a corner of your pocket and then and up springs a wild, whether it's big Come the walls of hospitals and floor to ceiling murals in patient and public areas. It's become a card games, it's become stage, shows, but most wonderfully it's being given by grassroots campaigns up and down the country to primary and secondary schools and to care homes. at gp surgeries places where people are either gaining words as they are, as as as young people in primary schools or or losing them, as they are often through dementia in care. Homes in the book seems to have oddly catalyzed a means by which language can be found again. The language of everyday, very common nature, as you say, accompli buck, conquered Catechin em all the way through to willow and ren by way of kingfish and heron and
is taken on its own life and that, as a writer to see something you write, become wild, become self willed and go and move through the world like that is, is probably the greatest thrills. I think we better he next desk. It arises from this. It is not the wildwood of the last words, but it's the birds that flew from the topmost branches of the wildwood sancho the blessing that was written by some extraordinary musicians that jack and I came to work with and they produced spell songs and they were very free adaptations, often and blessings Last of those it takes his inspiration from the gallic naming, sonic tradition of praise. Songs. I lost had paid under the blue whale skeleton in see holding the natural history museum just a few weeks ago. It reduce me to floods of tears. I think a year of intent, self show leaving the body something about fragility. You see a natures presents
but anyway I let a let europe decide, I couldn't drive, a journey on past. I start exploding I was flying a little fine greening saying to the last words the blessed thing by the spell songs, musicians, rubber, macfarlane,
alongside you right, then you have a full time job as a fellow it, a manual college, cambridge teaching, literature and environment of humanity's how the demands of social distancing during the past year affected, how you teach in one sense or flee so much what has had to go online, but in other when it's been possible. It's forced, wonderful improvisation. So, in back in the autumn, I basically set up an outdoor teaching space under a trace of slung. A tarpaulin got a couple of chairs, I know it's out see the students there and I would and then I would also war can teach when I was seeing students when a one page, these students or under grudges- and so I remember thinking Oh oh, this isn't an hour's teach. This we're three mile tee met measuring and distance, and do you think of yourself ass, a teacher? as much as you do a writer yes to participate. If I was to go to an inn. Somebody asked me what I did. I say a teacher and possibly put down the passport, but back in the day when you had to declare, you
Profession creates on quite on the most, but would have been teacher. Think many students round the country closer bit disgruntled with them university, education and the general experience at the moment. Do you think they're getting a bit of a raw deal? Five hundred, astonishingly? How time my final, your students, I've, had the best part of two years of some of the best years of their life turned remote and devils. waiting so yanks extraordinarily hard. I do know that everyone I work with has the as it was done everything they can, because we all we care for students, and we want to teach as well as we can and we we miss everything that slacking as well we're gonna, make me feel next tracking disk number six rob what ve chosen. This is for my students, really. This is just to thank them for
Should you sing me to new ideas, new new texts and new music and its I wouldn't have come across this without my students is called for, if, as is by serpent with feet, its lush, its bourgeois its deeply strange, and I haven't no idea what the fortieth is up, I love this song. The the is cool with me that I'd like to see the depression, filling up urine in the ceos and overflowing the school, be that you want full refunds serpent with.
so rubber macfarlane and twenty nineteen, your book underlined a deep time journey was published two critical acclaim when a number of prizes and it's a history of subdued in places through time, all over the world- it's not always pretty However, I mean anyone who has read the friendly horrifying account of your claustrophobic experience. Life in the catacombs beneath paris will probably never forget it. Perhaps it was there a point where you regretted having the idea was that when he loves mountaintops, it's it's an odd choice to make it Book is a relationship I spend so long making sure it's right, because the way I do it it mean is something you can live with an end for five to ten years. So I never regretted it because who is committed to the project, and I knew there was a mystery there. An immense mystery, which I was never gonna fathom fully, but even feathering shadowy, would involve an extraordinary
in mystery is, is our relationship with darkness ready and what lies beneath us all the things we love to forget, but are drawn to. Nevertheless, we go into darkness too. He that's what I discovered really early on very counterintuitively. It's not always a place if, if, if confinement and exploitation and incarceration, that can be those things, it can also be pace of vision, dark matter, physicists Let's go a mile under the earth in order to study the missing mass of the universe, take him home for your next disk, your seventh. What have you chosen? the swimming sung by in wainwright. Add this for my children and it's for my friend, roger roger Deakin, who died in two thousand and six far too young of a brain tumor, and he and my children, and in in that decade the two thousands they changed. The way I see the world they pulled. The scale back, I grew up as mountaineers will bet the big scales in the epic deep time and long views from the top or whatever and and roger and my children. Just
help me see what was right to hand right in front of my nose. He swam three britain. He I wrote a book about the frogs few of our lakes and rivers and locks and seas, and so on and yeah. Was a swimmer, and this song was the loss of of roger, where it just was so huge at the time. I I felt like a whole future gun with him, be my mentor and my friend replied the song at his funeral and it still stops michelle. I can just about here in the house without crying. Now, I think of him with joy and my children
I understand that this swimming so liven wainwright. The said robert macfarlane, you ve been involved with various campaigns to help protect trees and in twenty eighteen. You were one of the co editors of people's manifesto for wildlife, for urgent and large scale change in Britain's relationship with nature. What are we getting wrong? And what would you like to see next we're getting so much wrong, but I think we'll let whip possibly
holy learning to see what we need to get right. A bit faster. I'd like to see Such rights in england and wales transformed become a lot more like scotland, which is based in scotland on more rights and more responsibility is based on trust and you get to go more or less. Where you want nowhere near schools not into gardens at such her nose common sense, don't damage crops and safe, where we have so much of this country that we can't get tee. I'd like to see A specialist wildlife crime unit set up to investigate the killings and persecutions of of raptors in the uplands that just keeps on going and see our cities get loads more urban canopy cover. I think it is good for people it's good for shade. It's good for pollution, so, let's build that up blight, see tree cover in the uk, go beyond twenty percent right she's in the right. But you know, or all of these things stand there and we can t them and when you say that the treaty of rome
where we are now. What's the percentage is awful, we re scout countryman, it differs of asean, indifferent, pose the country birthing run. Twelve. Thirteen percent natural europe, natural reforestation, which is arguably the best way for this to occur. reinforced enormous areas freely faster, have conversation we german conservationists there like a problem, is how to stop the forest growing. I would love that to be our problem, that it's not so there's a huge well for tree planting right now, but it's got to be got right. It was time to cast you away. Of course we also have island. Are you hoping for? Can you picture it in your mind's eye, or at least twentieth century limestone? Probably lots of tree cover and then really beautiful blue waters river coming down that sparkling limestone am I allowed that may be with a volcano in the center I did. I may be, as is probably I'm asking TIM volcano in the center active at note, just
if so that first spelunkers, presumably eggs, are going the load of recreational and lending. I see you Robert, why didn't know it could design my I'm if you told me that I would have I'd have come with drawings and genealogies, unnatural histories and all the rest of it. Never frankly, you have no excuse for survival skills that are anything short of excellence on this inactive volcanic island. Here's! What do you think the biggest challenge that you can foresee entail missing my family, but I'm assuming, though, make regular boat trips. I say it it'll be keeping my mind moving. How are you didn't give a name in the most sensitive and a dynamic way possible to everything? Just so I could greeted every creature every plant every tree, and I set myself to the impossible task of of mapping that island every detail of it, even though I know it gauges incomprehensible to turkey and afraid to say that your family one because it tell me in isolation. How will you cope without people? I don't know
good it being a my own any longer. I spent a lot of time when I was younger working alone in and as it were, solitary into our places to think- and it just doesn't hold any appeal for me now so that I can be challenged while one more track before you go to your eighth biographers. Well, this is darken the light right here, we've been in shadow and shine all the way three and it's messier, olivia messier. It's the third movement from the the quartet for the end of time. It's at a beam days, raza, which means the abyss of the birds and people We know the story of the writing of desperate. I see I was in a prisoner of war camp stalag and he managed to get proponents of god and he wrote this. Extraordinary piece of music, multi movement, peace, music for him in his fellow prisoner music since one of whom was clarinet is, and it was premier didn.
Nineteen. Forty one in the camp. Four hundred fellow prisoners in camp cards were there and I get a tingle just thinking if that performance. But this particular, I apps will reach the bit where the clarinet suddenly burst. Site of the abyss is the bird and monsieur this wonderful says the abbess is time and all its wariness and sadness and the bird, when they sing they are. Artist desire for songs of jubilation for stars, Night the
yeah. The Part of the movement for machines quartet, the end of time we had the clarinet is to close this.
no ending on hoop robert macfarlane yeah that a wonderful clarinet there, the black as it were, I think of it as just impertinent and trilling and resilient and irrepressible, leaping out of the chasm to surprise us with it's song So it's time to send you away to the island, rob you can take a few things with you. Firstly, the books and give new bible the complete works shakespeare and you can take one other, but would you like? I would like to take the complete works of gerard manly hopkins, these desert poet, nineteenth century poet and. When I say the complete works, I mean that the poems and his journals and letters cause they spring full of life, and I sharpening vision and detail. Did they exist? Asset
look already three. He s, maybe unlike we could maybe stick a couple of books together, got to be a real but ok well, in which case the poems in the journal yeah, you can also cheese, a luxury. somebody like. I would like a very heavy cropping fairy spicy hot shitty plant. Please Ah, you know you're fond of chile's sorry when climbing, particularly when called being there might go to pick me up and capsaicin rush on the top of a cold mountain, or indeed in the depths of a blue sea level. I love chinese youth and really which one track above all the rest, would you rush to save if he had to burst of a donoghue by Jonathan. I cannot fathom it it's so beautiful and as these lines in the last days of my life, I don't whether a laugh or cry- and I know
I will love cause. I've been so lucky in the people of nine in them and the friends I've made in the places I've been robert with fallen. Thank you very much for letting us here. You desert island discs. Thank you. The No, I'm really hope you enjoy that interview with robin macfarlane. We ve many writers and conservationists away over the years. They include we should maybe chris and isabella tree. You can hear their programs if you search through BBC signs or a desert island website join me, At a time when my guest will be the lawyer museum of sound
the. Well there I'm Simon armitage, I'm just heading down the garden path, so this might be a good moment, Tell you about the new series of my radio for podcast, the poet laureate has gone to shed the shed actually on the it's been quite a lonely place this past year, fulfilling obvious reasons. So it's great to be able to plump up the plastic cushions set up an extra foldaway chair and natter about life and creativity with talented and thoughtful people. guests include the yorkshire shepherd S, amend, owen, broadcaster, dj and garden Joe wily and smith's guitar. Is johnny. Put your It's one of the many not holes in the wool by searching for the poet laureate,
he's going to his shed on BBC sounds.
Transcript generated on 2022-06-05.