I avoided Helen Macdonald’s bestselling memoir H Is for Hawk, despite its awards and acclaim and even the recommendation of friends. The premise – devastated by grief by the sudden death of her father, Cambridge academic Macdonald spent a cathartic year training a goshawk – sounded so self-indulgent.
The chippy part of my soul thought Macdonald should consider herself lucky to have the luxury of being able to spend an entire year solely focused on mourning a parent. Most of us must simply get up and go to work and wrestle with our pain while crying in Tesco’s and wondering why we feel so blunt, flat and sad all the time.
Yet I fear that this resistance says much more about me than it does about Macdonald, certainly after I watched her lovely, lyrical documentary H Is for Hawk.
I saw it on the day the news was filled with the Las Vegas gun attack and I needed to escape into a pool of calm and hope. Just for an hour, H Is for Hawk rescued me from the kind of generalised despair that threatens to swamp us after yet another atrocity.
It’s the story of Macdonald, post-book, as she decides the time has come for her to train another goshawk. Her first, Mabel, her salvation, died of a disease. Macdonald is clearly a highly accomplished writer so her accompanying narrative is both moving and bewitching.
If you feel that your soul could do with taking flight for just an hour, soaring above the seemingly relentless sadness that comes almost daily in a year that’s been torn by horror – terrorist attacks, the Grenfell Tower fire, the Manchester Arena bombing and, of course, Las Vegas – I heartily recommend it.
I’ve been searching for escapism a lot lately, and not just from real life; I’ve also been seeking balm for a rash of misanthropic, baroque dramas. They include Rellik, which remains one of the most horrible things I’ve ever seen (there’s a tiny group of us at RT who discuss each episode as part of a little support network), and Liar, which I wrote about last week.
Liar ended on Monday with the kind of messy flourish that I expect infuriated the huge audience that’s loved it and invested six hours in it. Then there was the toxic Doctor Foster, which slapped me across the face week after week with its thoroughly dour and bleak view of human nature. Yes, of course, warring couples really do behave badly and they emotionally exploit their children. But, blimey, it was tough to watch.
So I’ve looked for little oases in my viewing week such as Victoria and Cold Feet (Sunday and Friday ITV). Victoria asks nothing of me: it’s a parade of pretty dresses, mesmerising jewellery and a smidgen of lightly told history in lovely surroundings.
Meanwhile, Cold Feet remains the most eternally optimistic relationship drama on television. Even when relationships crash and burn, when emotions roil and anger flares (like the excruciating birthday dinner at the end of last week’s episode), Cold Feet’s heart remains, essentially, warm.
Surely, as the clouds of real life gather, that’s something to hang on to.
H Is for Hawk: a New Chapter — Natural World is on Thursday 19th October at 9pm on BBC2 (8pm Scotland, 11.15pm Wales)