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The Thread that Binds Them

The Thread that Binds Them

Some years ago, when writing a gardening article for an achingly right-on newspaper, I used the expression ‘other men’s flowers’. I cannot now remember in what context but I have not forgotten the sub-editor changing the phrase to ‘other people’s flowers’. I had fool­ishly imagined that, even if my readers did not know Montaigne – ‘I have gathered a posie of other men’s flowers and nothing but the thread that binds them is my own’ – they would at least recognize the play on the title of one of the great poetry anthologies of the twentieth century. Some hope.
SF magazine subscribers only

Reaping the Whirlwind

A warm summer day in 1987. A thump on my doorstep announces the arrival of a stout parcel with the familiar return address, BOMC, Book-of-the-Month Club. These were the pre-Internet days, when BOMC worked exclusively by mail. You had to open the brochure that arrived every three or four weeks and return the postcard that proclaimed you didn’t want the next month’s selection, or else it would be sent automatically. Having neglected to return the post­card, I found myself holding Freedom by William Safire, a 1,000-page novel about Abraham Lincoln and the first two years of America’s four-year Civil War, this account ending with Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. It was a book I did not want and had no interest in. Still, it was here. I was here. There was no harm in having a look before I sent it back. I sat down and began to read. Three hours later I was still reading. Freedom would alter the trajec­tory of my reading for the next twenty years.
SF magazine subscribers only
The Sweetest Note of All Others

The Sweetest Note of All Others

Most of the houses of East Sheen in south-west London were built on farmland as part of the great explosion of suburbia between the 1890s and 1930s. The houses are solid and the rear gardens long. There are ancient copses in nearby Richmond Park and the surround­ing patches of common land but most of the garden trees were planted by the first residents and have grown over the years to maturity, just as the hedges of hawthorn and privet have grown taller and thicker. Patient gardening turns the soil and throws up worms and hundreds of other varieties of insect. A consequence of all this activ­ity is that, with the destruction of wild woodland and the poisoning of farmland by chemical fertilizers, perhaps the safest place for wild birds is now a leafy suburb – apart, that is, from the large number of cats, sitting with deadly patience under hedges and in long grass, but I’ll come back to them.
SF magazine subscribers only
Quick Brains and Slow Tongues

Quick Brains and Slow Tongues

My parents are both now dead. My father died last, aged 90, in 2016. I had always associated my love of books with my mother’s influence. My father’s passing, however, made me realize – too late – that most of the books I turn to for comfort are those to which he introduced me. I can track my childhood through the stories he read to me at bed­time, from Pooh and Alice through to Thurber, Leacock and Conan Doyle. Later came Chandler, Hašek and others. As we grew up, he continued to read some of these aloud to us, snorting with uncontrol­lable laughter at the jokes.
SF magazine subscribers only
A Friendly Looking Lot

A Friendly Looking Lot

When I was 6 I broke my arm and had to go to hospital to have it set in plaster of Paris. All this, both the breaking and the setting, made for an eventful day. When I got home there on the table was a book, a present to cheer me up (this was 1954 when presents for a not-birthday were perhaps rarer than they are now). The book was The Bell Family by Noel Streatfeild and I have it still. It’s the story of an impoverished vicar’s family who triumph over adversity by being, basically, nicer than their odious rich relations; there’s also a cleaning lady called Mrs Gage who has a heart of gold and drops her aitches. It seems very anachronistic now, but at 6 I was a sucker for heart-warming stories about gallant, united families. And I loved the illustrations, which were by Shirley Hughes.
SF magazine subscribers only
An Olympian Scoundrel

An Olympian Scoundrel

It’s a funny thing, humour. What makes you laugh out loud may leave me with a face like an Easter Island statue. In my own experi­ence the funniest books are non-fiction, and most of these are biographies. There really is nothing so strange or funny as real peo­ple. If I had to present my case, then Exhibit A would surely be Bernard Wasserstein’s The Secret Lives of Trebitsch Lincoln (1988), the extraordinary, meticulous, marvellously funny biography of a man who was – well, what exactly?
SF magazine subscribers only

Mr Gryce Meets His Match

Imagine you are at a pub quiz. It’s the literature round and the theme is literary firsts. What was the first novel in English? What was the first detective story? Readers of Slightly Foxed could probably hazard a guess at Robinson Crusoe and The Murders in the Rue Morgue. But what was the first ever piece of detective fiction written by a woman? It’s a question likely to leave most readers stumped. But just in case it ever comes up, the answer is The Leavenworth Case by Anna Katharine Green, published in 1878.
SF magazine subscribers only
Twice Upon a Time

Twice Upon a Time

Starting a story with ‘Once upon a time’ does not guarantee a happy ending. In their classic collection of folk tales, the rather aptly named Brothers Grimm made sure there was a moral to every story: goodness is rewarded, evil is punished, sometimes quite brutally. Even Hans Christian Andersen’s stories do not all end happily ever after: the prince who disguised himself as a swineherd to test the princess’s devotion came to despise her and returned alone to his own little kingdom.
SF magazine subscribers only
Roald Dahl | Teller of the Unexpected

Roald Dahl | Teller of the Unexpected

‘An autobiography is a book a person writes about his own life and it is usually full of all sorts of boring details. This is not an autobiography. I would never write a history of myself. On the other hand, throughout my young days at school and just afterwards a number of things happened to me that I have never forgotten . . . I didn’t have to search for any of them. All I had to do was skim them off the top of my consciousness and write them down. Some are funny. Some are painful. Some are unpleasant. I suppose that is why I have always remembered them so vividly. All are true.’ Roald Dahl, Preface to Boy
A Fortunate Man | From the Slightly Foxed archives

A Fortunate Man | From the Slightly Foxed archives

‘John Berger has spent three months shadowing his remarkable friend the local GP night and day, to paint a portrait of his life . . .’ Please join us as we travel through the Slightly Foxed archives to the Forest of Dean in the 1960s, where we meet ‘an exceptional GP’ in Dr Sassall, the country doctor depicted in A Fortunate Man by John Berger. We hope you enjoy Rose Baring’s piece from SF Issue 67. And we also bring you more information about this year’s Slightly Foxed Readers’ Day, our one-day literary festival at the Art Workers’ Guild in London. The event will be held on Saturday 5 November, and we urge you to book your place now. It’s a high point in our calendar and we look forward to hearing our contributors speak about a wide range of bookish subjects and, of course, meeting readers old and new.
The Secret Orchard of Roger Ackerley | Diana Petre

The Secret Orchard of Roger Ackerley | Diana Petre

Diana and her twin sisters grew up in Barnes, South London, in the care of an elderly housekeeper, having been abandoned in 1912 by their mother, the enigmatic Mrs Muriel Perry, whose real name and true identity were a mystery. After an absence of ten years, Muriel reappeared and took charge of her children, with disastrous results. For the girls, one of the highlights of their isolated lives were visits from a kindly man they knew as ‘Uncle Bodger’. In fact, as Muriel finally revealed in characteristically brutal fashion, he was their father, Roger Ackerley. Unbeknownst to the girls, he lived down the road in Richmond with a retired actress and his three further children.
Confessions of a Common Reader | From the Slightly Foxed archives

Confessions of a Common Reader | From the Slightly Foxed archives

‘Anne Fadiman recalls that Charles Lamb “once told Coleridge that he was especially fond of books containing traces of buttered muffins”’ Here at Hoxton Square we feel we may be kindred spirits with Charles Lamb, especially as the season turns and there’s a chill in the air, calling for muffins and good books to bury one’s nose in. As we come to the end of another busy working week, we’d like to take you back to where our story began: the first article of the first issue of Slightly Foxed magazine. Appropriately enough, it’s about a lifelong obsession with books. And we do hope that you, dear readers, will find a kindred spirit in Anne Fadiman.
I Was a Stranger | A Story of Friendship

I Was a Stranger | A Story of Friendship

As commander of the 4th Parachute Brigade, John Hackett was in the vanguard of the attack on Arnhem on 17 September 1944. A week later, when his depleted and poorly supplied force was at its last gasp, he was badly wounded in the stomach and leg. It is this moment, with the battle almost spent and the narrator reduced to helpless dependence on others, which marks the starting point of the book – for I Was a Stranger is not so much a tale of derring-do (though its descriptions of the fighting are vivid) as a story of friendship. The heroism it celebrates is not that of soldiers, but of a household run by three women in a town under German occupation.
Slightly Foxed Autumn Launch Party at Topping & Co. Bath

Slightly Foxed Autumn Launch Party at Topping & Co. Bath

We were delighted to welcome readers to Topping & Company Booksellers of Bath, where we raised a glass to the Autumn issue of Slightly Foxed magazine. This was our first launch party for over two years and we were very happy to be back in Bath with our friends at Topping & Co. in their beautiful new premises. Tuesday 20 September 2022 • Drinks and light bites from 6.30 p.m. Topping & Company Booksellers York Street Bath BA1 1NG Please click here for more information and tickets.

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