Sod The Soil? Frame the Mountains.

7 Oct

I’m rather cock-a-hoop to be an offical reviewer for the Ilkley Literature Festival (don’t worry though – the fair folk of Ilkley don’t *really* use such phrases…despite the rumours that our rougher side of West Yorkshire like to peddle about…)

So, here goes – the first review so far:


Tim Marshall has a beard. He also has a long pointy stick and likes to prod it at enormous maps of the world and urge you to get all giddy about mountain ranges and polar ice caps and the like.

dont like maps sml

Despite a house filled with maps; ‘We don’t like geograpy.  All’s we do is study how different local authorties in the UK use different colours for recycling bins,’

But don’t let the above lead you to any stereotypical images of your average tweedy jacketed geography teacher. Because Tim happens NOT to be a big fan of the way that geography is being taught in British schools these days (“sure, learn about your soil samples … but unless you have a basic grasp of the world’s geography, you don’t have the framework on which to hang this knowledge”).

So, Tim Marshall’s approach – “putting the GEO back into geo-politics” is deemed to be highly unfashionable, to be too deterministic. In fact, George Galloway very publicly bawled out the author’s take on how the world works. Yet Tim felt quite content in gleefully sharing Galloway’s vitriol with the Ilkley Playhouse audience (aforementioned newspaper clipping now proudly on display in the smallest room in Mr Marshall’s house.)

But Tim Marshall did a cracking job of convincing his audience of his own approach. For the next 45 minutes, his listeners were treated to a whistle-stop tour of each of the major continents and current conflict zones, with an outline of how and why these areas of the globe will always remain sizzling hot spots of combat. We were invited to venture in to the mind of Putin (“admittedly, not a pleasant place to be,”) and were challenged to think beyond the ‘nation state’- to consider issues such as tribal, racial, religious affiliations – as well as the desperation of the bigger, more powerful countries in their quest for water, energy, trade and in their jockeying for position within NATO and other alliances.

He told his listeners; “I’m not about morality”, but that he prefers to focus on each nation’s point of view. His responses to questions from the audience were excellent; tackling such diverse issues as the role of the digital age, space, devolutionary politics and whether British people (lurking as we do, in a “prime piece of real estate”) should be more concerned about China’s obsession with trade, the growth of South American’s power or with the differing responses of each EU country to the current refugee crisis.pris of geog

In fact, my only criticism of the event was that he covered so many countries and conflict zones and got so wild with his big stick and the maps that, at times, I felt like a pussycat watching a ping-pong match (and unlike George Galloway, my pussycat impression ain’t much cop.) But then, hey; the earth is a damned big place after all. And perhaps the festival should have furnished the author with a 2 to 3 hour slot instead. Judging by the packed Playhouse, this might not be a bad approach for the future for someone with as much to say as Tim has.

So, overall? At the risk of upsetting other authors out there, I have to be honest and state that it’s very rare that I feel tempted to ‘buy the book’ after seeing a talk by a writer. But for sure, here is one piece of non-fiction that I hope to be receiving in my Christmas stocking.

(Postscript – And given Tim Marshall’s distaste for how geography is currently taught in British schools, I cannot help but urge him towards producing a child’s version of ‘Prisoners of Geography.’ I happen to know a small army of irate parents who actually WANT our future generations to be more clued up about the big world picture, as opposed to the details of soil samples, the colour of recycling bins and whether LEGOLAND Windsor is only a couple of miles from the LEGO Discovery Centre. Or not.)

like maps sml

But chuck a bit of politics in, some wars and the odd trip to LEGOLAND Windsor. Or the Kalahari. And we manage to convince the kids…


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