21st-Century Yokel explores the way we can be tied inescapably to landscape, whether we like it or not, often through our family and our past. It’s not quite a nature book, not quite a humour book, not quite a family memoir, not quite folklore, not quite social history, not quite a collection of essays, but a bit of all six.
It contains owls, badgers, ponies, beavers, otters, bats, bees, scarecrows, dogs, ghosts, Tom’s loud and excitable dad and, yes, even a few cats. It’s full of Devon’s local folklore – the ancient kind, and the everyday kind – and provincial places and small things. But what emerges from this focus on the small are themes that are broader and bigger and more definitive.
The book’s language is colloquial and easy and its eleven chapters are discursive and wide-ranging, rambling even. The feel of the book has a lot in common with the country walks Tom Cox was on when he composed much of it: it’s bewitched by fresh air, intrepid in minor ways, haunted by weather and old stories and the spooky edges of the outdoors, restless, sometimes foolish, and prone to a few detours... but it always reaches its intended destination.
The book is illustrated with Tom’s own landscape photographs and linocuts by his mother.
Peter's mum and dad are worried. Over the last twelve months they've noticed ferocious changes taking place in their son. It's not just the mumbling and the cloud of melancholy that seems to hover permanently over his ever-more-militant mop of curly hair. It's not even the oversized trousers or the numerous metal chains that hang off them. The problem is that Peter, who is fourteen, wants to be a musician - a rock star preferably, but anything else that involves a guitar, gets him bags of money and free CDs, and gives him access to unlimited scantily clad groupies will suffice (as long as it's not classical). Uncoincidentally, ever since the advent of this new ambition, Peter's grades at school have plummeted from very good to somewhere below mediocre. What is to be done?
In the spirit of intellectual enquiry, Peter and music-critic, Tom Cox, set off in a Ford Focus on a journey to the dark heart of Britain's musical heritage, to get the inside track on whether being a musician really is a sensible career choice for a teenager. They hunt the streets of Cambridge for former Pink Floyd frontman Syd Barrett and have numerous encounters with folkies in tights. They explore the wilder shores of prog rock and get up close and personal in a lift with Brian Wilson. Tom gives a masterclass in second-hand-record-shop etiquette and finds that Peter is something of a child prodigy. Most of all, they drive around, talk about stuff and Peter eats crisps.
Part coming-of-age story and part urban travelogue, this brilliantly funny book is a must for anyone who has ever been baffled by a teenage boy.
As a teenager in Nottingham, Tom Cox was possessed. Despite the best endeavours of his frankly rather groovy parents, nascent fashion sense and regular exposure to credible music from an early age, he was inexorably drawn into the bizarre, esoteric world that is golf, with its male-bonding rituals and strange trousers. And thus a strange hybrid was born -- from 1988 to 1995, Tom was Midlands golf's answer to Iggy Pop.
Assisted by his fellow junior members at the local club, he cut a swathe through the golfing establishment, putting dead animals in his fellow golfers' shoes, setting fire to the club professional's shop, bringing Colin Montgomerie close to tears and repeatedly wearing the wrong colour of socks. On the golf course he felt simultaneously at home and somehow alienated. But Tom also wanted to be (and became) the best, taking five years out of normal adolescent existence to live, breathe, walk and talk nothing but the sport he loved.
Nice Jumper is the story of how Tom tried to fit in, failed, got down to a handicap of two, tried to fit in again, got suspended from the club, got corrupted by rock and roll, then attempted to corrupt golf itself. Original, poignant and highly entertaining, it's a book about one teenager's obsessive attempts to attain sporting nirvana - despite the slings and arrows of outrageous fashion.
As a teenager, Cox dreamed of sporting immortality. For four years he devoted himself to the game of golf. And then, one day, he walked away. But as he got older, those dreams kept coming back. Perhaps it was turning thirty, perhaps it was having his first hole in one, but he decided it was time to start again, to live the dream for real.
So he switched off his computer, grabbed his checked trouser and headed for the golf course. To turn pro. The Open Championship was only five of the best rounds of his life away, and given a few warm-up tournaments, how hard could it be?
Tom Cox's writing has appeared in the Sunday Times, Daily Telegraph, Observer, Mail on Sunday, Guardian and Golf International magazine. He has written several books on animals and sport, and is the author of Nice Jumper, which was shortlisted for the 2002 National Sporting Club Best Newcomer Award, Educating Peter and The Lost Tribes of Pop, a collection of his columns for the Observer Music Monthly magazine. He is founder of The Society of Secret Golfers. He was born in 1975 and lives with his wife in Norfolk.