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Still Life | From the Slightly Foxed bookshelves

Still Life | From the Slightly Foxed bookshelves

Introducing the latest addition to the Slightly Foxed Editions list, No. 55: Still Life. The historian Richard Cobb, famous for his brilliant books on France and the French Revolution, his inspirational teaching and his unconventional behaviour, grew up in the 1920s and ’30s in the quiet and deeply conventional town of Tunbridge Wells. In this unusual memoir he recreates his childhood in entrancing detail. The book is indeed a ‘still life’, a snapshot of a miniature world caught at a particular moment in time. Yet every page contains some wonderfully recaptured human or geographical detail which stays in the mind and brings the town and its people colourfully alive again. ‘Strange and wonderful,’ wrote Hilary Spurling in the Observer when the book was first published. And indeed it is.
1st September 2021

Slightly Foxed Issue 71: From the Editors

For many of us, the summer of 2021 will be remembered through the words of a song from forty years ago. ‘Should I stay or should I go?’ was the theme of days in which we packed and unpacked our bags, anxiously scanning the headlines. Whether in the end you decided on a staycation or ventured further afield, we hope you were refreshed by a change of scene. As for us, we’re finally back in the office and delighted to be able to see one another again. And we’re looking forward to a very busy autumn!
- Gail Pirkis & Hazel Wood
From the editors
Tigers at the Double Lion

Tigers at the Double Lion

While staying recently in Chiswick, I went on a literary pilgrimage to Glebe Street, where Anthony Burgess and his wife Lynn lived in the 1960s. I wasn’t sure what I would do when I got to No. 24. Genuflect at the garden gate? Halfway down the street, a triangulation took place. The postman came out of a front gate, a woman arrived from the opposite direction and stopped him, and I stepped aside to circumvent them. As I did so, I heard the woman say, ‘Have you got anything for No. 24?’
SF magazine subscribers only

‘Delighted’ of Tunbridge Wells

Richard Cobb’s first book in English was A Second Identity (1969), a title he chose to show how a middle-class Englishman became not just a historian of France but a historian who effectively became French, a man who had learned to say and even feel different things on opposite sides of the Channel. He had spent many years in Paris, living in arrondissements on both banks of the Seine, carrying out a prodigious amount of research in the Archives Nationales, and writing almost always in French. He was chuffed when Frenchmen mistook his nationality. ‘Vous êtes Belge?’ they might ask, or better still, ‘Vous êtes du Nord?’ for he loved to be thought a native of the textile towns of Lille or Roubaix.

When in Rome . . .

The two books take the form of the intimate memoirs of Claudius himself, telling of his unlikely ascent to the imperial throne, and his surprisingly successful thirteen-year reign. Previously he had been known around Rome as Claudius the Idiot, or Clau-Clau-Claudius the Stammerer, and regarded as being in general an axe short of the full fasces. After his death the younger Seneca wrote a satire on Claudius’s death, The Pumpkinification of Claudius, in which the Emperor dies giving a noisy fart and saying, ‘Oh, good heavens, I believe I’ve made a mess of myself.’ ‘Whether this is actually so I can’t say,’ writes Seneca, ‘but all agree that he always made a mess of things.’
SF magazine subscribers only
All’s Well That Ends Well

All’s Well That Ends Well

Children, as any parent will tell you, are innocent beings whose sensibilities it is the first duty of every parent to protect. They are sensitive, impressionable marshmallows, easily swayed, all too often led astray. St Ignatius of Loyola warns us that if he is given the child he will mould the man; Lenin likewise cautions, ‘Give us the child for eight years [or, according to some sources, four] and it will be a Bolshevik forever.’ As thunder tails lightning, it follows that the greatest care must be taken when giving children anything to read.
SF magazine subscribers only
England, Their England

England, Their England

At the time of writing, the town of Tewkesbury, in the north-west corner of Gloucestershire, has been cut off by the flooding of its four rivers: the Severn and Avon, at whose confluence it stands, and smaller streams named Swilgate and Carrant. Only the great Norman abbey, with its necklace of Gothic chapels, rises above the turbid brown tides that surge across the meadows. England is more richly watered than elsewhere in northern Europe, but now this very same element seems thoroughly hostile to the humans who planted the woods, ploughed the fields and staked the hedges enclosing them.
SF magazine subscribers only
Unravelling Burushaski

Unravelling Burushaski

When I was young I thought I knew exactly where the real Shangri-La was. It was the land of Hunza, in north-west Pakistan, or if not, then Gilgit or Chitral, and those magical names remained with me as I grew up. Years later I was clearing out my father’s things and discovered a worn, spineless, much-used book on his shelves. It was called Language Hunting in the Karakorum. More years passed before I discovered where and what the Karakorum are and where my identification of Hunza with Shangri-La had come from.
SF magazine subscribers only

The Joy of Sex

In the late 1780s the librarian at the Bohemian castle of Dux, fifty miles from Prague, was trying to finish his autobiography. His employer, Count Joseph Karl von Waldstein, chamberlain to the Emperor, was an amiable man, but in his absence his jealous major- domo Feldkirchner made the librarian’s life a misery. The servants disregarded his orders, the cook served him cold, inedible meals, dogs were encouraged to bark outside his room at night, and during the day a hunting horn with a peculiarly unpleasant tone was sounded at intervals. Everyone in the castle was encouraged to laugh at the elderly man’s over-meticulous manners and old-fashioned dress. All in all, it was remarkable that Giacomo Casanova succeeded in completing his masterpiece – though despite its enormous length it still ends so abruptly that there might have been a few more pages to come.
SF magazine subscribers only
A Place to Call His Own

A Place to Call His Own

‘He had thought deeply about this house, and knew exactly what he wanted. He wanted, in the first place, a real house, made with real materials. He didn’t want mud for walls, earth for floor, tree branches for rafters and grass for roof. He wanted wooden walls, all tongue-and-groove. He wanted a galvanised roof and a wooden ceiling . . . The kitchen would be a shed in the yard; a neat shed, connected to the house by a covered way. And his house would be painted. The roof would be red, the outside walls ochre and the windows white.’
SF magazine subscribers only
Peak Experience

Peak Experience

I have a childhood memory of being ill in bed, bored and grumpy until my mother came up with an idea of genius. This must have been in late 1953 or 1954 because we had a children’s version of The Ascent of Everest and, like most people at the time, were captivated by the con- quest of the world’s highest mountain. My mother showed me how to position my knees under the eiderdown, roped two miniature naked pink plastic figures together with blue wool and we re-enacted the ascent. Through the Khumbu icefall, up the South Col and the Hillary Step and on to the summit. The magic of those names.
SF magazine subscribers only

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