Lockley’s rules

by Charles on May 3, 2017

Shortly off to Skokholm, to make a serious start on the sea book. And so of course I’m reading Ronald Lockley. He’s magnificent. Here, from ‘The Way to an Island’ (Dent, 1941, pp. 123-124) are his two rules for living (articulated when he’d just left school), along with his comments:

‘[The rules] were simple: just two: (1) Be natural. (2) Be intelligent.
Under Rule (1) I amplified the instruction as follows: ‘Wear as few clothes as possible: rather thick and few than thin as many. Leave off your shoes and socks. Your hair your hat. Wash your body daily. Sleep always in the open air; sleep only to rest. Eat moderately the simplest food. Be happy; there has never been occasion for moroseness.’
And under Rule (2): ‘Appreciate, know, and love the ways of natural life. Speak only words of true meaning. Sneer not, but point out, not the mistakes, but the true way. Be moderate in thought and deed; smile, but do not laugh. Use your life intelligently; do not waste time. Think more and write less. Take sufficient unto the day only; be not over-provident. Harness no creature to the machines of man; it will lose caste.’


Ig Nobel Prize for Biology

by Charles on September 23, 2016

Very pleased to announce that I have won an Ig Nobel Prize for Biology for the work in ‘Being a Beast’.


Baillie Gifford Non-Fiction Prize long list

by Charles on September 21, 2016

Delighted that ‘Being a Beast’ has been long-listed for the Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction (formerly the Samuel Johnson Prize). There are some wonderful books on the list: I’m not holding my breath.


New York Times Bestseller

by Charles on September 6, 2016

Delighted to announce that ‘Being a Beast’ is a New York Times Bestseller.


Emotions in the wild

by Charles on May 19, 2016

This is an exchange, originally published here on the History of Emotions blog, with Thomas Dixon. Thomas’s questions are in bold italics.

Your experiments in becoming a beast seem to have been motivated by something like E. M. Forster’s motto “Only connect” – but applied to non-human animals. Did you end up feeling that you had connected and, if so, with what?

I would prefer to say that I ended up acknowledging that I was connected.

The opening line of the book is: ‘I want to know what it is like to be a wild thing’. That is a woefully misconceived line. For, whether I like it or not, I am a wild thing. That’s the (trite) Darwinian truth.

My DNA wasn’t forged in a factory. The shape of my psyche was determined by wood, wind and water. Why do we like sitting next to a fire in the winter? It’s not because we see a Dickensian parlour in our sentimental mind’s eye. It’s because our subconscious is happy to know that when the wolf crouched just beyond the light makes its move, we can grab a burning branch and shove it in the wolf’s face.

David Abram points out that there are no non-wild places – just places of relative unwildness. Leave a piece of pie in an inner-city office for a few days, and it’ll be covered with exuberantly wild mould. Your gut is a mass of entirely wild organisms over which you have no control. You depend on their wild fecundity for your thriving and your survival.

So: I am connected to non-human species, whether I like it or not. Many of my defining relationships are with non-human species. We’re much better off noting and accepting the relationships that make us. Nasty things happen if we don’t. Ask Freud.

We have systematically, brutally and disastrously unlearned the languages we need in order to articulate properly our relationships with the non-natural world. The relationships are still there: we’re just painfully constipated when we try to discuss them.

I suspect that all worthwhile knowledge is acquired by anamnesis. And that’s certainly what I was about on the moors and in the woods. I started to unforget my fellowship with the natural world, and unforgot a few words in which to describe that fellowship.
There were moments when old memories flooded in particularly fast. I looked into the eyes of an urban fox. I knew that it knew something about me that I didn’t know, and that it was changed by the encounter. You asked me about connection. Connection entails reciprocity, and that meeting stank muskily of reciprocity. [click to continue…]


Being a Beast talks in the UK

by Charles April 10, 2016

Currently scheduled 2016 UK talks are: 9 February: Royal Geographical Society 5 March: Words by the Water Festival 10 April: Oxford Literary Festival 23 April: Bristol Festival of Ideas 5 May: Chipping Campden Literary Festival 22 May: Wood Festival 27 May: Greenwich Literary Festival 8 June: Waterstones, Oxford 11 June: Cheltenham Science Festival 19 June: […]

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Being A Beast will be out in the UK in February 2016 (Profile Books), and in the US in June 2016 (Metropolitan)

by Charles December 17, 2015
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Human dignity in Howard Jacobson’s ‘J: A Novel’

by Charles November 10, 2015

‘J’ is not the title of this novel. The title is ‘J’ with two lines through it, to denote the two fingers that one of the central characters, Kevern Cohen, puts neurotically to his lips whenever he utters the letter ‘J’. For this is a novel about things that are not uttered, and the consequences […]

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by Charles July 15, 2014

On the shelves in my study there are long rows of small, hard-backed notebooks. Most of them are blue or black, with a red fabric spine. On the spine there are usually some dates, and often some place names: Beirut: 8-9/1993; Danakil: 4/2002; Misc North Africa 4-6/2007; Spitsbergen and North Pole: 2004; Peloponnese, 9/1997. Occasionally […]

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Travelling with camels: a practical guide

by Charles March 7, 2013

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