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This review is taken from PN Review 35, Volume 10 Number 3, January - February 1984.

REAL ROOTS Tom Rawling, Ghosts at My Back (Oxford University Press) £3.95

'In the name of God, Amen, Aughust vi th 1663, I John Railing Elder of Hollings in Kelton, Yeoman, sound in mind and alerte in bodye and memorye doe make this my will . . . unto John Railing my eldest sune one shooting crossbowe . . .': thus wrote Tom Rawling's forebear late in the seventeenth century, bequeathing his son a handy weapon' and his remoter descendant a theme. With apologies to the author of this collection, his ghosts not only work at his back but stand most resolutely at his elbow. For most of us ancestors are abstractions we summon up to lend ourselves a spurious justification; Rawling, on the other hand, does duty as a place name in Cumberland to this day. Tom Rawling closes his book on a photograph of an agricultural rootcutter taken from his own album and reproduced in stylized form on the front cover. Roots have latterly become fashionable, but Rawling's rootcutter is an authentic creation of iron and rust abandoned in the corner of a Cumberland field. He presents it to remind us that there are some have roots as real as potatoes.

Rawling studied History at London during the inflamed thirties before surviving as a schoolteacher while devoting his private hours to trout fishing. He was in late middle age before discovering a talent for verse. Rawling comes from a generation whose writers tortured themselves over the tribulations of folk in the deprived Northern counties but lived for ...


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