Choosing a career as a mole-catcher is unusual, to say the least. But then Marc Hamer has never followed any convention, rather he has forged his own path in life. He has been homeless after his father decided he was surplus to requirements at the age of 16, worked on the trains and slept in hedges and on the beach, weeded gardens and finally ended up in this, a mole-catcher, his last career. Knowing where moles are is fairly easy, look for the conical piles of soil that appear scattered over finely tended lawns and driving the owners of the properties half-mad.

Finding these elusive creatures is much harder and takes years of experience and knowledge to locate the tunnels and set the traps. It was this knowledge that meant that mole-catchers could expect a secure and well-paid job. This solitary working life suited Hamer, spending time outside in the glorious Welsh hills sensing the seasons change imperceptibly on a daily basis and loving his life. After a lifetime of experience chasing and destroying these rarely seen animals, he made the decision to never do it again and hung up his traps.

Reading about the destruction of these poor creatures is not easy; however, Hamer somehow writes about it with a tenderness that doesn’t lessen the cruelty, but shows his small part in the cycle of life and death in nature. It is a part that he turned his back on, deciding after one incident to not continue the trapping of moles. I really like Hamer’s sparse writing too, he is not pretentious or flowery, rather he tells it how it is, celebrating the tiny details that others often miss, enjoying the wind and rain as well as retreating home for shelter, companionship and a tumbler of whisky for warmth. It feels like he is an integral part of the landscape and like all living things on this planet, just a transient blip in the geological deep time. I preferred the prose to the poetry, and all the way through it is beautifully illustrated by Joe McLaren.

Paul Cheney 4*

How to Catch a Mole and Find Yourself in Nature by Marc Hamer
Harvill Secker 9781787301245 hbk Apr 2019