Signal Failure: London to Birmingham, HS2 on foot by Tom Jeffreys


One November morning, Tom Jeffreys set off from Euston Station with a gnarled old walking stick in his hand and an overloaded rucksack. His aim was to walk the 119 miles from London to Birmingham along the proposed route of HS2. Needless to say, he failed.

Over the course of ten days of walking, Jeffreys meets conservationists and museum directors, fiery farmers and suicidal retirees. From a rapidly changing London, through interminable suburbia, and out into the English countryside, Jeffreys goes wild camping in Perivale, flees murderous horses in Oxfordshire, and gets lost in a landfill site in Buckinghamshire. Signal Failure weaves together poetry and politics, history, philosophy and personal observation to form an extended exploration of people and place, nature, society, and the future.

In part, Signal Failure is the story of the author’s multiple shortcomings – his inability to understand the city he lives in, to forge a meaningful relationship with his home-county hometown, to emulate those great nature writers he admires so much, to put up a tent or read a map.

It is also a wide-ranging critique of humanity’s most urgent failures: of capitalism, of community, of the city and the suburbs, of architecture and agriculture, of bureaucratic democracy, and, in the end, of our age-old failure to find our place in the world we live in.

Signal Failure – Paperback
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About the author

Tom Jeffreys is a writer, editor and occasional curator with a particular interest in contemporary art that crosses over into the sciences or explores our relationship with the environment. His work has been published in, among others, Monocle, Apollo, Vice, The Independent, The Daily Telegraph, New Scientist, Cricinfo, and World of Interiors. Previous curatorial projects have included poet-led urban nature walks and exhibitions dedicated to the beauty of the mundane and the role of archives in our understanding of the natural world. Tom is also editor of The Learned Pig, an online magazine with four areas of interest: art, thinking, nature, writing.


Praise for Signal Failure

The abiding mystery evoked in Tom Jeffreys' walk along the proposed route of the HS2 is whose idea was it anyway?  Jeffreys' journey takes him past boarded-up hospitals, abandoned railway lines, pubs which claim to sell food but don’t, and over the hedge chats with a sad and often angry population adrift in a world lacking any trustworthy political compass points. Tom Jeffreys is a worthy member of J.B.Priestley’s good companions, and Signal Failure an engaging and affectionate update on that earlier writer’s seminal English Journey.
– Ken Worpole, author of The New English Landscape

Through it all, Jeffreys’s writing is intelligent, engaging and engaged, and deeply and disarmingly human. 
New Statesman

Giving way to loneliness and uncertainty is exactly what makes the book so enchanting.
Times Literary Supplement

I have no idea where booksellers will place Signal Failure—it’s political, reportage, travelogue, delving deeply into nature and the environment, part memoir and laced throughout with extempore musings. I hope it doesn’t fall between the cracks. It’s very, very special.
Minor Literature(s)

What this book offers is not so much an opinion on this particular project as an eminently readable wider vision of how and why a variety of people value the environment in which they choose to live and play.
Never Imitate

Signal Failure is an enthralling and irresistible read... a vital reminder that it takes more than demographic analyses and cost-benefit models to understand the value of our environment and our place within it.
Elsewhere Journal

A book about the particular and the local, about places as they’re lived and experienced and, inevitably about personal journeys—and much more, posing big questions about value, power, ownership and authority.
Manchester Review of Books

This is an odd book.

Tom Jeffreys achieves something quite remarkable in Signal Failure: bringing the massive complexity of HS2 back to a human scale.
Mike Newman

Further Reading

Tom Jeffreys discusses Signal Failure on the Monoclelisten here

Tom Jeffreys: In Conversation with C.C. O’Hanlon – Burning House Press

Paperback ISBN: 9781910312148
Ebook ISBN: 9781910312155
Publication date: April 2017
Formats: Paperback / eBook

Signal Failure – Paperback
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