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Issue 18

1st June 2008

Slightly Foxed Issue 18: From the Editors

One of the things we’ve learned during the four plus years we’ve been going is that you, our subscribers, are the kind of people who like to keep in touch. You write to us (such heart-warming letters); if you happen to be in London you visit (you’re always welcome – apart from the pleasure of seeing you, it gives us an excuse to drag ourselves away from the computer); and we often enjoy a chat with those of you who phone us when the time comes to renew.
- Gail Pirkis & Hazel Wood
From the editors
Confessions of a TV Tie-in

Confessions of a TV Tie-in

I’m no lover of rats. At various times I’ve shot, bludgeoned and poisoned them (Warfarin Creams work best: take a standard Bourbon biscuit and mix the poison with the chocolate filling). I’d certainly never dreamed of buying a rat, much less carrying one about in my pocket; but a few months ago I walked into a Crimean pet shop with just that in mind. I should explain. We – Dan the director, Larissa the fixer, the rest of the TV crew and I, the presenter – were in the port of Feodosia on the Black Sea, filming a series on Ibn Battutah for the BBC . . .
SF magazine subscribers only

Vatican Evasions

In 1986, when I had just started at the bookshop where I still work, I was given a book by a tall, amiable man in late middle age. He was the book’s author and he had just reprinted it himself. He imagined I might be interested. Branko Bokun’s Spy in the Vatican begins, ‘In April 1941, Yugoslavia was invaded by Germany and her allies. With the surrender, a new State of Croatia was formed. The Ustashi, a band of Catholic fanatics, backed by the clergy, decided to eliminate all non- Catholics in Croatia. Orthodox Jews, Serbs and Gypsies – men, women and children – were slaughtered in their thousands.’
SF magazine subscribers only

A Cat’s Life

If you were a bookworm as a child, your memories are measured not only in family and school and public events, but also in the stories you read. You remember vividly the smell, the touch, the sight of certain books. You clearly recall picking them up from the shelf – an ordinary act – and then the extraordinary happening, as you open the book and fall straight into another world. For me, who loved fairytales and fantasy, who longed to go through the looking-glass, the wardrobe, into another world where anything might happen, it was also a blessed escape from the confusing, disturbing and tumultuous family dramas that dominated my childhood. In those stories of other worlds, I found pleasure and consolation, transformation and possibility.
SF magazine subscribers only
A Pirate of Exquisite Mind

A Pirate of Exquisite Mind

We found William Dampier by chance. He was a small footnote in a book about buccaneers – those ‘original pirates of the Caribbean’ – which mentioned that there was a painting of him in the National Portrait Gallery. This seemed a strange outcome for a man who had pursued such a violent career and my husband and I went to see the picture. Entitled William Dampier – Pirate and Hydrographer, it shows a lean, strong-featured man with brown, shoulder-length hair and a watchful expression. There are no earrings, cutlasses or other Jack Sparrow-type flourishes. Instead, Dampier is wearing a plain coat with a white neck-cloth and holding a book, gold-tooled spine out, towards the onlooker.
SF magazine subscribers only

The Tape-recorder Man

In the mid-twentieth century a new device came into common use, enabling every Tom, Dick and Harry to record and play back sounds stored on magnetic tape. Arriving some 500 years after Gutenberg, the tape-recorder nevertheless had a small part to play in the preparation of text for print. A handful of enterprising writers began using it to record interviews with people whose opinions were (they judged) of interest to the reading public. The recordings were then edited, arranged in a palatable order, and published in book form. These interviews were more detailed and accurate than anything previously thought possible, except by the most tempestuous exponents of shorthand. However, critics of the new approach soon emerged. Were the books worth having? they asked. Was this ‘art’? Was it indeed proper authorship? And if so, who were the authors: those who spoke into the tape-recorders, or those who switched them on?
SF magazine subscribers only
Ad Hoc through Afghanistan

Ad Hoc through Afghanistan

The Way of the World suggests that the most fulfilling journeys are only vaguely planned; wise travellers, using intuition as their compass, leave themselves free to be deflected by chance events and encounters. This book also suggests that cycling to India is far less stressful than motoring; not much can go wrong with a gearless bicycle, even on the rough tracks that preceded today’s intercontinental highways. Our heroes’ vehicle faltered frequently, demanding patient ingenuity first to diagnose and then to cure its multiple ailments. In extremis, muscle power had to replace an engine that refused the fearsome gradients around Ararat and the Luz desert’s formidable sand-barriers. Typically, Nicolas makes little of such episodes, treating them not as exhausting dramas but as the amusing, trivial side-effects of dependence on a tiny Fiat long past its use-by date.
SF magazine subscribers only
Birds, Bees and Scorpions

Birds, Bees and Scorpions

If one were searching for the perfect antidote to Mis-lit one would find it triumphantly in Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals. First published in 1956 and in print ever since, the book is surely one of the most enjoyable English memoirs of the second half of the twentieth century. Every page is a celebration of the colours, sounds, smells, tastes and tactile sensations of the then unspoilt island of Corfu where the Durrell family arrived in March 1935 and where they lived until their expulsion from Eden in 1939 on the outbreak of war. It is beautifully written, with some astonishingly vivid and exact descriptions, whether of capturing a water snake in a stream or watching a lizard in its progress across a nocturnal ceiling, and it gets away, effortlessly, with all sorts of things one isn’t meant to get away with, not least the antics and tics of Funny Foreigners.
SF magazine subscribers only

Listening to the Heartbeat

Ryszard Kapuscinski understood the pitfalls of news reporting perfectly. He eschewed any pretence of being a dashing correspondent and wrote of the strange drive that propelled him to dangerous, forgotten places, often lonely but without an ounce of self-pity. As the agency reporter for Polska Agencja Prasowa (PAP) covering the entire African continent, Kapuscinski witnessed the dramatic birth of the ‘developing world’. He was a most unlikely witness, a Pole from a small town swallowed up by the Soviet Union who walked a tightrope when it came to surviving as a journalist. He went on to report from Asia, the Middle East, Latin America and the former Soviet Union. Kapuscinski witnessed more than 27 coups and revolutions, befriended Che Guevara, once awoke from a malarial daze to find Idi Amin standing over his hospital bed and was four times threatened with execution.
SF magazine subscribers only
Helluva Hotel

Helluva Hotel

The Ritz Carlton/Splendide was to be Bemelmans’s home for many years, and his book about it, which first appeared in 1956, has now been reissued in a slightly truncated form together with other stories about life under Lucullan tyranny. The new edition is entitled Hotel Bemelmans and is accompanied by scores of the author’s brilliant illustrations which resemble sketches that Edward Lear might have dashed off had he chosen the life of a gay boulevardier. (The bar in the Carlyle Hotel on New York’s Upper East Side still has murals painted by Bemelmans himself, by the way.)
SF magazine subscribers only

The Sensation of Crossing the Street

I remember thinking clearly: what a momentous day this is, and here I am, reading a novel set in London on a single day. What a chime, what an echo! These were not the words I used to myself, as I walked in the dazzling sun, but I now think they should have been, resonating as they do with the famous opening lines of Virginia Woolf ’s novel, when Clarissa Dalloway sets forth on a perfect June morning to buy the flowers for her party: ‘What a lark! What a plunge!’
SF magazine subscribers only
Swallows and Amazons for Ever!

Swallows and Amazons for Ever!

The train from the south drew in to the junction with the line that led to the hills. We changed, and already there was freshness in the air on a day of azure skies and deep shadows. I went to admire the Puffing Billy that was to haul us on the last leg of our journey, inhaling the intoxicating cocktail of hot oil and steam that engines exude. The whistle blew, I ran back to the carriage, the doors slammed, and we clanked our way west with the setting sun. I hurried from side to side of the carriage . . .
SF magazine subscribers only

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