EVENT REVIEW: Richard Hines: No Way But Gentlenesse

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Saturday 15th October
Palace Green Library
Review by Amrita Paul

When Richard Hines was in school, he was praised by his school principal just once, before he was about to flash him, “You have got intelligence boy, but it’s not human intelligence.”

Born and brought up in a South Yorkshire mining village, Hines had a rough childhood. He was subject to the wrath of his teachers and, having failed year 11, he wasn’t in a position to compete with his older brother, Barry who had started at grammar school and was likely to be destined for greater things.

But an encounter with a nest of kestrels suddenly gave new meaning to young Hines’s life. He says at his session at the Durham Book Festival, speaking about his memoir, No Way But Gentlenesse,  ‘I then started reading about falconry starting with T.H. White’s Goshawk. I even went to a local library and took notes from a reference book which I wasn’t allowed to borrow.’

He felt a certain kinship with birds of prey who were wild and defiant and like him. Violence didn’t work on them and they could be communicated with only through kindness. Hines then got a kestrel called Kes, his time with Kes later inspired the Ken Loach film of the same name, where Hines was employed as a falconer. But Hines, unlike most other falconers, chose to release Kes back into the wild. She continued to appear out of nowhere when he was out in the fields, grabbing food from his hands, having no care for social hierarchy. Hines reminisced, ‘She had forgotten everything I had taught her.’

When a young falconer from the audience asked Hines what bird would he like to fly now, the author added that ‘they are not toys’ so it wouldn’t make sense to just get a bird unless he was prepared to hunt with it, and being a vegetarian ‘that was an area of dilemma’.

‘But if I had to, I would fly the peregrine, soaring high in the sky and swooping after a grouse.’ He eyes lit up behind his glasses as he said that.

As the author, who is also a documentary filmmaker, continued to narrate various events from his life fifty years after they had happened, the audience found themselves transported to another time and place where a kestrel had once transformed the life of a young boy. A boy who has, quite clearly, found sense and purpose through this pursuit.