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Episode 20: An Issue of Enthusiasms

Episode 20: An Issue of Enthusiasms

Slightly Foxed Editors Gail and Hazel take us between the pages of the magazine, bookmarking articles along the way. Crack the spine of the quarterly to discover T. H. White taking flying lessons, smutty book titles, a passion for romantic ruins, John Berger shadowing a remarkable GP, a rebellious Mitford ‘rescued’ by a destroyer, a night to remember on the Titanic and much more besides. From correcting proofs to welcoming writers with a host of experiences, the story of putting together an issue of enthusiasms unfolds. And in this month’s reading from the archives, a hapless apprentice at the Hogarth Press recounts his disastrous stint with the Woolfs.
37 minutes
9th June 2020

Slightly Foxed Editors’ Diary • 9 June 2020

On Friday evening I had just settled comfortably into that delicious moment between waking and sleeping when there was a loud crash from the floor above my head. My first thought was that my husband had fallen over something, but since there was no cry for help I decided no action was required. After a moment or two of silence, however, sounds of banging from above began again. My second thought was that my husband might now be unable to speak and was banging on the floor to attract my attention, but he’s a hardy sort, and ashamed as I am to admit it, after only a moment’s hesitation I snuggled down again and pulled the bedclothes over my head.
- Gail Pirkis & Hazel Wood
From the editors
Cover Artist: Slightly Foxed Issue 66, Paul Cleden, ‘Boats and Coots’

Cover Artist: Slightly Foxed Issue 66, Paul Cleden, ‘Boats and Coots’

Paul Cleden is an illustrator and printmaker who is especially drawn to figurative movement – the dynamic shapes of cyclists or skiers, rowers or divers, but equally a crowd at rush hour leaving a train or a dance hall crowded with figures. In depicting such scenes his use of linocut allows for beautiful flowing lines and the dramatic overlap of colours. His work can be seen in galleries across the UK and in commissions from, among others, the National Trust and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. For more see his website www.paulcleden.co.uk.
‘What larks!’

‘What larks!’

Essentially it is the story of the friendship between Christopher Robbins, a struggling young freelance journalist, and Brian Desmond Hurst, an ageing Irish film director who had already outlived his talents and gloriously continued to do so up to his death in 1986. For a delicious period of pure fantasy in the mid-1970s the two lived the life of Reilly together. When he first met Hurst the young Robbins was in his late twenties and vainly trying to claw his way out of perpetual debt. The agent of his introduction was an enigmatic American hipster masquerading as a German count whom he’d run into in Spain, and whose expertise was ‘putting people together’.
2nd June 2020

Slightly Foxed Editors’ Diary • 2 June 2020

This week we’ve been waking up to some of those blue and gold mornings that in my case bring on thoughts of escape and waves of nostalgia, not for hot exotic places, but for the English beaches that stay in your memory for ever if you were lucky enough to know them as a child. Growing up by the sea in Devon, spending all day on the beach (entirely unsupervised) or out in a fishing boat, I genuinely couldn’t imagine what people who didn’t live by the sea did all day. I adored Arthur Ransome’s books (see SF no. 18) but we weren’t Swallows and Amazons children, sailing and building campfires and being self-sufficient. Those kinds of summers were for the children who holidayed down the coast at posher places like Salcombe. For us the sea and the beach were facts of life, places where people earned their living, but they were magical too.
- Gail Pirkis & Hazel Wood
From the editors

Life among the Ledgers

I am rather fond of the crowd that Dante meets at the very start of his journey into Hell with Virgil. They are all rushing around moaning and shrieking on the edge of the River Acheron, hoping that Charon the ferryman will carry them across. He refuses. When Dante asks who they are Virgil tells him that they are the ‘Futile’, the people who have done nothing in particular with their lives. They are not well-known for anything. They have achieved nothing spectacular either good or bad. They are not allowed into Heaven in case their dullness dims the radiant light of Paradise, and Hell won’t have them either because such an insipid bunch would downgrade the very notion of sinfulness. So they are not allowed passage across the river. They are seen hurrying to assemble under one flag and then fleeing in the opposite direction to assemble under another. They sound like most of us. Anyway, I number myself among them.
SF magazine subscribers only

A Modern Prospero

The Sea, The Sea was Iris Murdoch’s nineteenth novel and the only one to win the Booker Prize (in 1978). It is, to my mind, her best novel, as well as being the most representative of her talents and distinctive world view. It is also hypnotically readable. Actually all her novels are hypnotically readable (with the sad exception of her last, fractured book, Jackson’s Dilemma), but most contain certain faults of excess: passages of over-description, stagey scenes, unrealistic over-intellectualized dialogue, plotting whose artifice is all too obvious. This does not make them less lovable or less intellectually stimulating. Still: you can see the joins. This is not the case with The Sea, The Sea.
SF magazine subscribers only
Keeping up Appearances

Keeping up Appearances

Eve Garnett’s children’s novel was first published in 1937, with her own illustrations. At least eight publishers had rejected it on account of its supposed ‘grittiness’. Here was a story about an urban working-class family that detailed the endless struggles of Mr and Mrs Ruggles – a dustman and a washerwoman – to feed, clothe and shoe their seven children. In fact the book was probably the first ever British children’s book with working-class protagonists. Despite publishers’ initial reluctance, it was an immediate success. Serialized by the BBC in 1939, it won the Library Association’s prestigious Carnegie Medal – beating The Hobbit – and has been in print ever since. In a market saturated with stories about boarding-schools, nannies and improbable Swallows and Amazons-type adventures, parents and children alike warmed to the novelty of the Ruggles.
SF magazine subscribers only
Nothing but the Best

Nothing but the Best

It was grudgingly that I started to read Iris Origo’s The Merchant of Prato. My wife told me to. She had been referred to it for her studies. It sounded dry stuff, the re-creation of the life of a fourteenth century Tuscan businessman from his account books and correspondence. We had each been handed down copies of Iris’s immensely readable Images and Shadows (1970) in which she describes how in the 1920s she and her Italian husband bought the derelict estate of La Foce south of Siena and painstakingly re-established the mezzadria system. This had been used in Tuscany from the days of the Roman Republic, the landlords providing the upkeep of the farms and paying for half of everything needed for cultivation, and receiving in return a half share of all that was produced.
An Early-Flowering Climber

An Early-Flowering Climber

Reginald Farrer (1880‒1920) was unprepossessing in appearance, with a hare lip (the result of a cleft palate) only partially hidden by a moustache, a ‘pygmy body’ and a high, piercing voice. The son of narrowly Anglican parents (his father was a well-to-do landowner and Liberal MP, and the family were closely connected to the Sitwells), he was educated at home, at Ingleborough Hall in Clapham, in the Yorkshire Dales, and spent his boyhood gardening and searching for rare wild flowers on the nearby peak of Ingleborough.
SF magazine subscribers only
Labours of Love

Labours of Love

The words on Alan Ross’s gravestone could hardly be simpler: ‘Writer, poet and editor’. They could scarcely be more accurate either, although one wonders whether their subject might have given his commitment to poetry pride of place. Alan is buried in the churchyard in Clayton, the Sussex village where he lived for twenty-five years and where he knew great happiness. That happiness was particularly precious to a man who also experienced the fathomless miseries of depression.
SF magazine subscribers only
A Hot-Water Bottle and a Horse

A Hot-Water Bottle and a Horse

Long before the term was used to describe talent-free people in the public eye, John Betjeman was a celebrity: Poet Laureate, saviour of ancient buildings and National Treasure. But though his wife Penelope is affectionately portrayed in his letters, and in a biography by their granddaughter Imogen Lycett-Green, for me she always remained an enigma. Until, that is, I was cast to play her in a BBC Radio production and discovered the first of her two books, Two Middle-Aged Ladies in Andalusia (1963).
SF magazine subscribers only

A Long Way from Surrey

A decade ago I took a decision which has made me happy ever since. At Christmas I would read only short books. This switch was first achieved when I decided to limit my holiday reading to the four extraordinary little fantasies that H. G. Wells wrote in quick succession, starting in 1894 at a desk in a Sevenoaks boarding-house: The Time Machine, The Island of Doctor Moreau, The Invisible Man and The War of the Worlds. When he had finished he had gone from total obscurity to being one of the most famous authors in the world.
SF magazine subscribers only
On the Shoulders of Giants

On the Shoulders of Giants

We would race past a Saxon church, its western hindquarters sunk into the hillside, a kindly beast emerging from its lair. We would teeter in slow motion beside the dark timbers of a medieval bridge. And by the time we dismounted to wheel our bicycles across the main road beneath the glass escarpment of a public school’s immense chapel, we would be looking seawards to the windsock of the airfield and skywards for the light aircraft – Tiger Moths, Chipmunks, Dragon Rapides – which were the objects of our plane-spotting pilgrimage. I am reminded of those sunlit days, and of the ‘whooshpering’ sound of the canvas wings as the aircraft swept in above us, whenever I take down my copy of T. H. White’s England Have My Bones (1936). It is a book for browsing, for it takes the form of a journal which White kept through four seasons in 1934–5, the year he took flying lessons at a small airfield in the middle of England.
SF magazine subscribers only
These Fragments

These Fragments

I’ve always loved ruins and vanished buildings. If you share that interest, and many don’t, finding a fellow obsessive is wonderful. My fascination had lasted decades before I came across Harris’s book No Voice from the Hall (1998) and found a kindred spirit. Subtitled Early Memories of a Country House Snooper, it describes his teenage expeditions hitch-hiking across England – mostly – in search of derelict great houses in the aftermath of the Second World War.
SF magazine subscribers only

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