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Richard Hillary | The Last Enemy *30 copies left*

Richard Hillary | The Last Enemy *30 copies left*

Richard Hillary was a charming, good-looking and rather arrogant young man, fresh from public school and Oxford, when, like many of his friends, he abandoned university to train as a pilot on the outbreak of war in 1939. At the flying training school, meeting men who hadn’t enjoyed the same gilded youth as he had, his view of the world, and of himself, began to change. In 1940, during the Battle of Britain, he shot down five German aircraft and was finally shot down in flames himself, sustaining terrible burns to his face and hands.
‘Variety, the unexpected, a bit of vulgarity and the ridiculous mixed in with the elevated’ | Present ideas for father figures

‘Variety, the unexpected, a bit of vulgarity and the ridiculous mixed in with the elevated’ | Present ideas for father figures

This has been Roger Hudson’s recipe in compiling a commonplace book from material he’s gathered over the past 40 years. Surprise, recognition, amusement, An Englishman’s Commonplace Book calls forth a variety of reactions. Ranging over the centuries, it contains a rich mix of often arresting facts, vivid descriptions, absurd observations and wise words, all organized under subject headings to help find that appropriate quote. Altogether a book for the times and a perfect present.
During that August‒September period we were always so outnumbered . . .

During that August‒September period we were always so outnumbered . . .

During that August‒September period we were always so outnumbered that it was practically impossible, unless we were lucky enough to have the advantage of height, to deliver more than one squadron attack. After a few seconds we always broke up, and the sky was a smoke trail of individual dogfights. The result was that the squadron would come home individually, machines landing one after the other at intervals of about two minutes. After an hour, Uncle George would make a check-up on who was missing. Often there would be a telephone-call from some pilot to say that he had made a forced landing at some other aerodrome or in a field. But the telephone wasn’t always so welcome. It could be a rescue squad announcing the number of a crashed machine; then Uncle George would check it and cross another name off the list. At that time, the losing of pilots was somehow extremely impersonal; nobody, I think, felt any great emotion – there simply wasn’t time for it.
Down to Earth | Rural reads for the summer

Down to Earth | Rural reads for the summer

Greetings from No. 53 Hoxton Square, where the rain is lashing the old metal-framed window panes and we’re spending our lunch breaks holed up on the sofa with mugs of hot soup, dreaming of escaping the city for Adrian Bell’s flower-filled orchard or, more appealingly, a comfortable chair fireside until summer decides to arrive. We fear it may be a little while yet until summer does come to stay and so, in the interests of remaining cheerful come rain or shine, we’re plotting a jolly trip out of the city.
Love at First Flight

Love at First Flight

I came across Frances Hodgson Burnett’s My Robin (1912) while doing research for a book I was writing about my grandfather. I had discovered, on reading through my father’s papers, that the family tales of connections to Frances and The Secret Garden were true. (Perhaps I’m still not convinced that Frances presented a pram with her initials emblazoned on it at the birth of my Aunt Gert, and yet it is consistent with her character.) My grandfather was gardener to Frances at Maytham Hall in Kent, and he was the inspiration for the book’s more interestingly named character, Ben Weatherstaff.
SF magazine subscribers only
Gloriously Over-the-top

Gloriously Over-the-top

Jan Morris loved to provoke. Though she wrote elsewhere of nationalities as a ‘cruel pretence’, she was not above outrageous generalization or outrageous distinction – in this case, between the sexes. Of all Venice’s visitors, she observes, ‘the British seem to me to provide the best of the men (often distinguished, frequently spare, sometimes agreeably individualist) and the worst of the women (ill tempered, hair unwashed, clothes ill fitting, snobby or embarrassingly flirtatious)’.
SF magazine subscribers only
Choosing Life

Choosing Life

I remember exactly how I first came across The Other Side of You. It was about fifteen years ago. Yet another relationship had hit the buffers and I was consoling myself with a mini-break. Browsing in the airport bookshop, I spotted a new book by Salley Vickers. I was aware of the author’s psychoanalytic background, and when the blurb told me this was a tale of lost love, it drew me like a magnet. Even as I was putting the book in my bag I could feel its intensity, but I had no idea it would become the main event of my weekend.
SF magazine subscribers only
Birth of a Nation

Birth of a Nation

It is 3 a.m. I have risen, as men of a certain age are wont to do, to answer a call of nature. Emerging from the smallest room, torch in hand, for I am staying with friends and the way is unfamiliar, I pass one of the innumerable bookcases which adorn every wall of every room. Each shelf is packed to bursting with an embarrassment of riches. I stop to look through them, as one does at 3 a.m., and notice on the bottom shelf a slim, grubby volume, its spine illegible. Curiosity creeps into my fingertips. Crouching silently, I prise it from its neighbours and fancy, as I blow several years of dust from its pages, that I can almost hear this little book sigh with liberation.
SF magazine subscribers only
Meet the Plantagenets

Meet the Plantagenets

I was 6 when I was given the new Puffin edition of Rumer Godden’s The Dolls’ House (1947). ‘This is a novel written about dolls in a dolls’ house,’ it begins. It was the first novel I’d ever read, arriving just at the point where I’d cracked the secret pleasure of reading to myself. We lived in Newcastle then, by the railway line. By that time, I had three younger siblings. It must have been one afternoon, when the others were downstairs, that I went up to the bedroom with my book to be alone. As the eldest I carried a certain weight: I was expected to set an example, to be grown-up, responsible. But I also got to do the first things first: first, most memorably, to read a book on my own, to make the leap, unaccompanied and unmediated, into that pocket of time and space, that dream-concoction of light and heat and air, which was – though it rose inexplicably from inside me – an entry to another world.
SF magazine subscribers only
Life in Our Hands | *New* from the Slightly Foxed bookshelves

Life in Our Hands | *New* from the Slightly Foxed bookshelves

It is three o’clock in the morning, ‘the very bottom of time’ as Pamela Bright describes it, and her ward is filled with wounded men. So overstretched is she that she barely knows where she is, but as her gut-wrenchingly vivid account progresses, we begin to understand that she is in a Casualty Clearing Station attached to the British Second Army in Normandy, which had landed a week after D-Day in June 1944. Pamela is one of the young nurses working heroically to tend to the wounded in impossible conditions a few miles from the front line.

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