As the rain poured down on the Edinburgh International Book Festival tents in Charlotte Square, Matthew De Abaitua talked about the joys of camping. Spending time in a tent in a wild place can take you back to nature, he argued, and help you rediscover a self that is more in tune with the natural world, more able to cope with mild adversity and become more self sufficient. His argument might have been more convincing if the weather had been better, but he was certainly very interesting as he outlined some of the history of camping as a leisure pursuit and tool for developing character. He also shared some of his personal experiences of camping, from watching an early sunrise to the problems of camping on a roof in the middle of London.
Then the focus moved to Tom Hodgkinson, who talked about his move from city living to living in a huge abandoned farmhouse and taking up smallholding with his family. He also very eruditely talked about the history of 'back to the land' literature (mentioning Thoreau among others) and of farming didactics in poetry (mentioning Virgil among others as writers of verse that was intended to offer instruction in agriculture as well as entertain). He talked about how we can reclaim the best things from our ancestors, arguing as did de Abaitua that we have lost our once close relationship to the land.
There was then a lively audience discussion about how can we find more space for nature and slowness in our lives without necessarily moving to the countryside or spending all summer in a tent in a muddy field in the Scottish Highlands. Ideas included:
* spend time in public parks
* watch the clouds
* carry a notebook at all times to jot down thoughts or make sketches
Disclaimer: I had a free press ticket for this event.
Later in the day, I went along to hear Sian Bevan reading a short story as part of Story Shop, an Edinburgh City of Literature project celebrating emerging writers in Edinburgh.