In SatNav We Trust –
A search for meaning through historic counties of England
By Jack Barrow
Rated: 4 stars ****
This is a wonderfully adventurous book. It’s enough to have people yearning for travel and maybe aspire to exploring the UK.
I thank Anne Cater at Random Things Tours and Jack Barrow for inviting me onto the tour and for sending me a physical copy of the book.
Find out more about the book, my review and the author below.
In SatNav We Trust – a search for meaning through the Historic Counties of England is a journey through ideas of science and belief, all the while searching for meaning and a bed for the night. Or was that the other way around?
On May 1st 2013 I set off from Oxford on the trip of a lifetime. It wasn’t a trip around the world or up the Himalayas, I set off to visit every one of England’s 39 historic counties. These are the counties that used to exist before all the boundary changes that chopped Yorkshire into bits, got rid of evocative sounding names such as Westmorland, and designated the big cities as metropolitan boroughs. I wanted to visit England as it used to be, although that’s not quite how it turned out.
In SatNav We Trust started out as a travelogue exploring all the usual suspects, spectacular landscapes, architectural or engineering wonders, historic towns with their cathedrals and castles. However, it soon developed into a journey through ideas and beliefs, an exploration of how the rational and the apparently irrational jostle for position in human experience. The book discusses our fundamental scientific understanding of the universe when, deep inside us, we might be as irrational as a box of frogs. This context, the exploration of England—the places stumbled across with no day to day plan, created the backdrop for these ideas.
Firstly, what a fabulously witty title. It catches the eye pretty well. It promises a journey through historic counties of England and certainly delivers as it begins in Oxfordshire and goes to Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire, Suffolk, Cheshire, Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, and many more.
He tells things how it is when travelling and in each place in his 4×4, and has even included the everyday places and items. He is also very honest in how he feels and how he almost gave up early on in this mammoth trip. Campsites seems to be the order of the day for accomodation. This isn’t just about all the tourist things that you can do, it’s very different from a travel book like that. It is indeed a full travelogue of the actual journey and what can be seen en-route, that some people may miss when passing through, the roads that are taken and the people who he meets, as well as the accomodation.
There is some humour within the trip that weaves in and out the interesting philosophising of life of the mix of rational and irrational anxieties that occur within people’s lives, including his own as he does some reflection. He manages, which seems like no mean feat, to think creatively about how to fit in Maslow’s theory of heirarchy, whilst in Rutland with what he is actually doing and expecting, in a way that is far from heavy reading.
The attention to detail in each place is great and it certainly is a fun trip, that becomes something more than just that with the observations of not just the places, but of life. It’s how this all binds together that makes the book engaging.
If you’ve travelled around England before, you’re certain, as I was, thinking, “been there, done that” and then finding places that may just have to go on that travel to-do list. If you’ve not done staycations before, then this book may inspire you to travel around England to visit many of the counties and discover for yourself what they hold.
About the Author
Jack Barrow is a writer of books and blogs about ideas based on popular philosophy in modern life. He is a critical thinker but not a pedant. He has an interest in spiritual perspectives having been brought up as both a Mormon and a Jehovah’s Witness. He’s not sure, but he believes this particular ecclesifringical upbringing makes him a member of a pretty exclusive club. He is also fascinated by science. At the same age as his parents were taking him to church services, he was also watching Horizon documentaries and Tomorrow’s World, becoming fascinated about science and technology. Perhaps around the time of the moon landings, when he was six or seven, he came to the conclusion that, sooner or later, people would realise that the sky was full of planets and stars, science explained the universe, and that there was no God looking down. He really thought that religion’s days were numbered. Declining congregations seemed to back that up, but since then there has been a growth in grass roots movements that seem to indicate people are looking for something to fill the void left by organised religion. He now has a particular interest in the way people are creating their own spiritual perspectives (whatever spiritual means) from the bottom up using ideas sourced from history, folkloric sources and imagination. Rather ironically it was members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses who first introduced him to the landscape of Wiltshire, with its stone circles and ancient monuments, which later kindled his interest in spiritual beliefs taken from more ancient perspectives.
He has also written a novel; The Hidden Masters and the Unspeakable Evil is a story of a group of magicians who discover a plot to build casinos in Blackpool and so turn the resort into a seedy, tacky, and depraved town. During this hard-drinking occult adventure, with gambling and frivolous trousers, Nigel, Wayne and Clint travel north on Friday night but they need to save the world by Sunday evening because they have to be back at work on Monday morning.
Jack lives in Hertfordshire, England, where he earns a living writing about things in engineering; this usually means photocopiers and bits of aeroplanes. He shares his home with R2D2 and C3PO, occasionally mentioned in his blog posts. People used to say he should get out more. At the time of writing he is currently shielding from the apocalypse, having been of a sickly disposition as a child, and wondering if he will be able to go to a live music pub ever again.