A captivating nature memoir telling the story of Britain's Green Belt, our national obsession with the countryside, and the author's childhood.
Coined by National Trust co-founder Octavia Hill at the end of the nineteenth century, the phrase 'Green Belt' originally formed part of an impassioned plea to protect the countryside. By the late 1950s, those idealistic Victorian notions had developed into something more complex and divisive. Green Belts became part of the landscape and psyche of post-war Britain, but would lead to conflicts at every level of society - between conservationists and developers, town and country, politicians and people, nimbys and the forces of progress.
Growing up on 'the last road in London' on an estate at the edge of the woods, John Grindrod had a childhood that mirrored these tensions. His family, too, seemed caught between two worlds: a wheelchair-bound mother who glowed in the dark; a father who was traumatised by chicken and was eventually done in by an episode of Only Fools and Horses; two brothers - one sporty, one agoraphobic - and an unremarkable boy on the edge of it all discovering something magical.
The first book to tell the story of Britain's Green Belts, Outskirts is at once a fascinating social history, a stirring evocation of the natural world, and a poignant tale of growing up in a place, and within a family, like no other.
John Grindrod grew up on 'the last road in London' on Croydon's New Addington housing estate, surrounded by the Green Belt. He is the author of Concretopia: A Journey Around the Rebuilding of Postwar Britain, described by the Independent on Sunday as 'a new way of looking at modern Britain'. He has written for the Guardian, Financial Times, Big Issue and The Modernist and has worked as a bookseller and publisher for over twenty-five years. He runs the popular website dirtymodernscoundrel.com and can be contacted on Twitter @Grindrod.
Grindrod's evocative and intelligent exploration of the green belt and its place in our national consciousness is part history and part memoir. He deftly weaves the two together, transforming what might otherwise have been a dry, technical discussion of planning and housing policy into a heartfelt narrative . . . One of the great strengths of Grindrod's book is his moving portrait of his late parents . . . [his] personal yet highly informative account of the origins and meaning of the green belt provides an excellent point of departure for an essential debate about its future, one that is likely to be contentious but is long overdue. — PD Smith, Guardian
Illuminating and enjoyable . . . tolerantly and unsentimentally, he gets us close up to the green belt as it actually is today . . . what truly lifts it is the personal element, above all Grindrod's portrayal of family life. — David Kynaston, Spectator
Grindrod writes beautifully about nature . . . a lucid, evocative book, suffused with sadness and anger. — Lynsey Hanley, Financial Times
Well-researched and engaging . . . It allows the reader to reconsider parts of the country that they might have taken for granted, and offers its own modest encomium to a part of England that seems under threat. — Alexander Larman, Observer
A coherent, deeply researched study . . . the experience of Grindrod's very ordinary yet unique family upbringing forms a logical sequence underpinning much of what he says about the green belt. — Gillian Tindall, TLS
Fascinating — Robert Macfarlane, author of The Old Ways
A satisfying ramble through the Green Belt of past and future with a backpack full of research . . . thought-provoking [and] compelling' — Laura Waddell, The List
A terrific, and very moving read. Fascinating study in the emotional landscapes of cities. A hymn to the peripheral that is totally on target. — Leo Hollis, author of CITIES ARE GOOD FOR YOU
What better lens to view the current friction between nature and our engorged cities than the Green Belt? A brilliant idea, brilliantly executed. — Tristan Gooley, bestselling author of THE WALKER'S GUIDE
Outskirts is dotted with funny anecdotes and familiar cultural references from a 1970s childhood. Grindrod segues elegantly between memoir and fascinating social history — BBC Countryfile
Very topical . . . interesting and moving . . . Grindrod has the knack of putting an issue into precisely the right perspective — John Greening, Country Life