Natural Mechanical is a beautiful, lyrical book. It presents a series of biographical insights into the life of Rocky, a boy growing up on the Isle of Skye in, from the context, the 1950s or 1960s. Rocky, a character based on the real experiences of Iain Seoras Rockcliffe, has a difficult and unaffectionate home life, and faces problems at school because of what would now be recognised as his dyslexia. "His own solution: NOT TO GO TO SCHOOL."
Instead Rocky roams the Isle of Skye with his dog Kim, making snares from nettle stalks to catch rabbits he then sells to the butcher, catching trout, helping his grandfather earn his drinking money at the local fair, and getting into scrapes - and at one point a convent cesspit - with his limited circle of friends. These same friends return from a holiday in France, giving Rocky the idea to see the place for himself. This he does by stowing away on trains, mingling with school parties on the cross channel ferries and hitch-hiking. He finds himself sleeping rough in Paris before ending up in Lyon, then making his way back to Britain, finally breaking into his only money, a ten shilling note, to buy a plate of egg and chips in Dover. After being missing for two weeks he turns up back on Skye: everyone refusing to believe the story of his trip to France until they realise the bandages on feet injured walking barefoot in Lyon are French.
Natural Mechanical succeeds in evoking a sense of a world now long gone. Perhaps the most fascinating thing about the book is that although the content is biographical and the storyline like a short novel, it is actually told as a narrative poem. This is divided into short episodes and presented from a number of points of view, including those of Rocky himself, his parents, and his first girlfriend. Poetry is to literature what ballet is to the performing arts, and can too easily be viewed as somehow "different", or "specialised" or "inaccessible". What is perhaps the most impressive thing about J.O. Morgan's wonderful book is that it is perfectly accessible to anyone with an interest in childhood or the Isle of Skye. Natural Mechanical is very likely to increase significantly the number of people who regard themselves as readers of poetry.
In a book full of magical moments, one stands out. Rocky has climbed a tree in search of a bird's nest, and his dog stands guard at its foot. They see a fox collecting snagged wool from the barbs on a barb wire fence, which it forms into a ball in its mouth before very slowly walking backwards into a pool in the nearby burn. The fox releases the ball of wool just as it submerges itself completely. Why? Well that's something worth reading in J.O. Morgan's own words...