Is The Understanding by Roger Robson Worth Reading?

Updated: Oct 28, 2019

The Understanding: the Shepherd, the Poacher, the Molecatcher: Rural Tales of Northumberland

The cold and monotonous morning commute, the greyscale office building you call your work, the everyday stresses and worries of life, that fill your head as you sit on a bench or your sofa… they fade away, and are now wrapped in the comforting blanket and emotional nostalgia that is brought to life by Roger Robson tales of bygone era. His stories filled with memories of a life full of love too precious not to be rendered to paper.

Roger Robson is a man securely rooted within his community as well as his past. A man not only renowned for his teaching career but also his highly accoladed time as a champion Cumberland and Westmorland wrestler. His book The Understanding, truly is a life’s work.

The words that fill the pages began to accumulate 40 years ago, collected in a moments peace, hastily jotted into the back of a worn exercise book or merely when the idea struck; but the experiences and events that led to such stories begin even further back.

In a time of paraffin lamps, grand family estates, horses ploughing the fields, molecatchers and poachers reigning the countryside. His grandfather, father as well as other family members all play their roles throughout these tales with the upmost importance, and alongside family photographs provided by Roger Robson, as well as perfectly selected engravings by the talented Thomas Bewick, it is easy to fall in love and familiarity with a life lost by society and time.

There are twelve stories in total; each filled with fantastical characters, folklore themes and the easy going ordinary. Demolition', which is the tenth tale to feature in this compilation, is particularly resounding. It focuses on two men, who are recognised by the gentry for their efforts and actions on the land each passing Christmas. How these men looked forward to seeking out the comradery these walks brought, the annual sightseeing of a weathering country house and “sheltered world behind the band of screening trees which lined the north road.”

The title at first seems too aggressive for such a gentle jaunt, until you read on and the emotions behind these words take effect. “A massive Georgian mansion disappears without trace.” And “Despite his socialism, the young man regretted the passing of a way of life.”

Roger Robson has captured not only the changing of society but unearthed our unspoken emotions along with it. Something we can all relate to even in today’s climate. With our ever-changing lives, society and political views. Demolition', could be the only title, because it is the ongoing and unspoken truth in life of what is silently transpiring around us.

Just like its title, The Understanding is a perfect communication of the life of ordinary folk. The people, events and places that are in each of these stories, that are neither fact nor fiction but ‘faction’ as Mr Robson would say (a conflation between the two) are beautifully written, simple but effective, elegant and timeless. But above all else they are filled with love and that to this day is an ‘understanding’ we all share.

The Understanding: The Shepherd, the Poacher, the Molecatcher: Rural Tales of Northumberland - Roger Robson available now at Bookends Carlisle or to order by telephone: 01228 529067

By Melanie Whitlock

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