I can see heads being scratched and furrowed brows in place. John who? Well yes, you may well ask that, so I shall elucidate, all in good time; as like you until a few years back I'd not heard of this wonderful author, who like Edward Thomas in a previous posting was ahead of his time.
But before I chat about John Moore, let me roll back time to my 15th birthday. I've always been fascinated by agricultural history, how people worked the land long before I was born. And so it was (unlike I suspect many 15 year old boys craving pop music and their first taste of beer) that on that April day in 1979 my parents bought me a book by someone called Fred Archer, entitled By Hook and By Crook. It was an inspired choice; chosen by my mother purely because of the title, as she welcomed and nurtured my developing interest in agricultural and rural history even as a schoolboy.
John Moore (1907-1967) was a different writer to Archer, as he not only wrote nature essays but war stories and fiction. He also broadcast on the radio and had a very eclectic professional life. My developing interest in him however is mostly that he was a very early campaigner for the preservation of the rural landscape he knew. Writing after World War Two he could see the effect that the post war need to feed the nation was having on the countryside and more importantly its wildlife.
But today how many conservationists or devotees of nature writers like Edward Thomas, Richard Jefferies or W.H.Hudson have heard of John Moore? Very few; and I suspect this is because Moore was writing at a time of media change when the radio and then the television dominated our leisure-time activities. His observations and writings were possibly seen as old fashioned and harked back to a Halcyon World, at a time when British Society as a whole was looking forward, not back, to that bright new world of consumerism, we are now so enmeshed in.
I hope the John Moore Trust will forgive me copying this quote I read on Saturday on their flier, but it perfectly encapsulates his way of writing.
‘It is not entirely out of the question that despite man's ingenuity the insects might beat us in the end. If they do it will be because we haven't used our biological knowledge, but instead have employed chemists as our hired assassins to kill our fellow creatures in their cave-man fashion, ignorantly, wantonly, wastefully.'(The Year of the Pigeons 1963)
That was written 50 years ago, yet we are still in a perilous state and today there is real concern that diminishing bee and insect populations in our countryside will ultimately bring about the decline in plant productivity, and yes, may one day have a serious effect on our ability to feed the World. I was reliably told a few years ago by a close friend of mine working in the Global agri-chemical business that in 2005, the European (not British, European) stockpile of milling wheat was estimated to be just 3 weeks at the time the Russian harvests began. It was touch and go and Governments across Europe discussed rationing cereal based products if the weather prevented those harvests coming in. Add in the effect that a decline in pollinators may further affect productivity of our arable farmland and you can see where this can lead.
Having wandered around the rooms for 20 minutes a chance remark about Fred Archer to the lady volunteer (behind John Moore’s own desk) led me to be introduced to the Museum’s curator, Simon Lawton, who had been working away unseen in his office. What a lovely knowledgeable guy, completely unruffled that I’d dragged him away from his work. We must have chatted for over an hour about John Moore, Fred Archer, countryside, writing and the sad knowledge that someone as important as John Moore is almost forgotten now. I came away from my visit feeling elated and that there really are people who passionately care about the state of our rural landscape and are running a gold-mine of a museum to do their bit.
I also learnt something from Simon Lawton I didn’t know of whilst making the Edward Thomas programme for Radio 4 recently, that John Moore had written a biography of his nature mentor, Edward Thomas (The Life and Letters of Edward Thomas, Heinemann 1939). Had I known that I think I’d have made a pilgrimage there with the microphone to include John Moore in the programme, he deserves to be known by a wider audience, and audience who also appreciate Thomas.
Much as Richard Jefferies influenced Edward Thomas, so did Thomas influence John Moore. Moore himself is now almost forgotten, but dare I predict that in a few years his legacy will rise again for the next generation to be inspired and guided, much as I have recently been guided? Maybe we need a television programme about John Moore…… now where are my programme commissioning notes of whom to send an idea to in London?
Fred Archer – Farmer and author: http://www.fredarcher.co.uk/
The John Moore Museum: http://www.johnmooremuseum.org/
In Pursuit of Spring – Radio 4: Easter 2013: