Monday, 14 May 2018


I recently noticed a book called “Factfulness” by the late Hans Rosling, that great Swedish presenter of statistics. From beyond the grave he continues to preach the message that things are better than you think.

Yet the name of book struck me and not in an altogether agreeable way. It had a touch of the ghastly Gradgrind about it, compounded by the publisher’s by-line – “10 reasons we’re wrong about the world”. Like influenza the tendency to reduce everything to ten ways or reasons is catching – to lose weight, to be a better leader, to avoid stress and so on.

By reducing everything to facts and “must-do’s” we’re missing the magic of life. Magic doesn’t always lie in the most obvious places. Dorling Kindersley’s books help you “do” a city but on hearing this they’ll create series called “The Top Ten Secrets of Venice– places to go your friends will miss”. It’ll be a boon to tourist-one-upmanship.

So what is magic? It’s when creation plays a trick on you, arm wrestling your imagination into delighted  and surprised submission. It happens every Spring. It happens watching a brook bubbling as you stand on a bridge, it happens when you read a gripping book and forget where or who you are. Magic transports you. Magic simply delights.  And it requires two sides for it to happen. So moving on to “Quantum Theory”:  if a tree falls in a forest and there’s no one there to hear it does it make a sound? Or is sound something magical that exists in our heads?

The problem with concepts like “factfulness” are that they thrive in a world of totalitarian left-brain thinking. No one who advocates the been-there-done-that style of living would believe it to be productive sitting and looking at that tree for an hour or more letting one’s mind drift and one’s ears hear the sound of breeze and leaves and of birdsong. Productive is a derogatory word because does our world actually have to be increasingly productive?

Isabella Tree has written a book called “Wilding”.  It makes one question what progress really means. It’s about Knepp Castle and its 3,500 acre estate just south of Horsham in West Sussex. It has been in family ownership  for 500 years and as a farm  had become increasingly loss-making. She and her husband in despair were driven to cut costs to the bone and see how nature farmed instead. Over the past decade it’s been left on its own apart from the introduction of some classic, old, wild breeds of cattle, pigs, deer, horses and so on. Nature keeps on hitting the back of the net.  Whilst  in the modern vast tracks of arable land birds and bees are in plummeting decline, at Knepp they are breeding,  thriving and diversifying.

Magic is happening in front of their eyes. It could happen in front of ours too if we looked patiently at the wonder of nature rather than just creating action plans.

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