When Nature Calls

Chaired by author, screenwriter and chair of PEN’s events committee Deborah Moggach, our three speakers Richard Benson, Molly Dineen and Craig Taylor passionately discussed the changing countryside, the increasing erosion of the farming and dairy farming industry, the cruelty of food production and the need for farmers to adapt to changing demands. The evening’s speakers demonstrated a genuine passion and concern for these issues, which inevitably effect us all and which require a questioning of the repercussions of society’s actions.

Writer and journalist Craig Taylor‘s book, a sequel to the 1969 book Akenfield, paints an intimate picture of the countryside at a time of change when technology and mass production are having a great effect on rural society. His book articulates the voices and opinions of the farmers and villagers of Akenfield and describes an exchange with a local farmer chopping down his apple orchid. Craig asked, ‘Why are you doing this? It looks like Italy here.’ He replied, ‘Well if you stopped buying your apples from Spain you could keep this view.’

Bafta winning documentary maker Molly Dineen discussed her most recent film The Lie of the Land, shown on Channel 4 the previous week. Her descriptions of the harsh realities of modern farming she had discovered while researching the film made her painfully aware of our general ignorance regarding the cruelty of food production, leading Molly to wonder ‘How dare we spend 700 hours in the Houses of Parliament talking about fox hunting, but not in any way address what seems to be going on that keeps us moving dead carcases around the world and buying in cheap food.’

Adding to the debate Richard Benson, writer and journalist, recounted how he had started life as a Yorkshire boy growing up on a farm, his journey through adolescence and discovering that there was more to life than Yorkshire, moving to London to become a journalist and then his return to the farm, which his father was eventually forced to sell. Richard also went on to describe the way in which his father’s resourcefulness had led him to begin making small hay bales, unusual for the area, but which found a demand with new residents.

The ongoing discussion raised many issues, one of which was the impact of urban actions on rural life, about which Molly felt ‘If you knew what the repercussions of your decision to buy certain things from certain places were, or just even bothered to read about it…if people paid a penny more for a litre of milk for example it would stop the wholesale slaughter of calves.’

Our three speakers entertained the audience with excerpts from their work. Craig Taylor read a passage from Return to Akenfield in which one of the locals he interviewed movingly described the beauty of watching a calf being born, while Richard Bendon read a vivid and humorous section of The Farm in which he recounts an exchange of few words between himself, his father and a village farmer with a typical Yorkshire speech pattern and a love of discussing the weather. Molly treated the audience to a description of the last scene in The Lie of the Land in which the viewer sees a group of sheep respond to their owner’s voice, cantering down a sun-drenched field and over the undulating countryside.

PEN would like to thank Richard Benson, Craig Taylor and Molly Dineen for their contribution on an incredibly visceral and fascinating evening. PEN would also like to thank Deborah Moggach for chairing the evening and Waitrose for supplying the wine.

Report by Nicola Groutage

Originally posted with the url: www.englishpen.org/events/reportsonrecentevents/whennaturecalls/

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