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Issue 60

1st December 2018

Slightly Foxed Issue 60: From the Editors

Well, this issue is our 60th, and it’s making us feel a bit ruminative – emotional even – remembering the little group (four plus a baby) who sat round Gail’s kitchen table, discussing an idea for a magazine that we weren’t at all sure would work. The baby is at secondary school now and the original four has nearly trebled, if we count all the great people, both full-time and part-time and with ages ranging over six decades, who contribute to the production of Slightly Foxed.
- Gail Pirkis & Hazel Wood
From the editors

Grave Expectations

The leitmotiv of The Quincunx is the interplay of Chance and Design – do we perceive Design in our lives, or merely impose it? – underscored by the recurrence of those Dickensian coincidences that Dickens’s detractors so often deride as ‘contrived’, yet which occur in real life every day, but the foundational theme is greed: how it twists, degrades and ultimately destroys everything it touches, even the innocent, and how it so clouds the minds of men that they come to see their most heinous acts through an indestructible rose-coloured glass of self-justification. Like so much of Dickens, it is a cautionary tale.
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Unsung Heroes

Unsung Heroes

The library at Fonthill Preparatory School was just what I imagined a Gentlemen’s Club to be like: shiny brown leather armchairs with velvet cushions, long oak tables, panelled walls, a coal fire in the corner, and windows looking on to the branches of an enormous beech tree. And, of course, books. It was there that I came to know the schoolboy classics of the time: the adventures of Biggles, the misadventures of William, and the voyages of the Swallows and the Amazons.
SF magazine subscribers only
Rock, Root and Bird

Rock, Root and Bird

The Living Mountain, thankfully, is a treasure that, rather like the Cairngorms it describes so wondrously, stands alone in space and time. Happening on it at any point in one’s reading life brings unexpected pleasure. It is thanks to Robert Macfarlane, who has written a typically penetrating introduction to a new edition, that the book, first published in 1977 after lying orphaned in a drawer for four decades, is now enjoying a second wind. So much so that the recent, universally glowing accolades even include the claim that this is ‘the finest book ever written on nature and landscape in Britain’. For Macfarlane it is ‘one of the two most remarkable twentieth-century British studies of a landscape that I know’. So we are in serious territory here.
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. . . to Buckingham Palace

. . . to Buckingham Palace

How Bennett must have enjoyed writing this book. The Palace setting, with its hierarchies and snobberies and constipated bureaucracy, and the shrewd no-nonsense voice of his central character, allow him to take pot-shots at all his favourite targets: official jargon, literary pretension, slippery politicians, trendy attitudes – and ultimately, perhaps, the infantilizing effects of Monarchy itself, with its suburban lifestyle hidden behind the glittering façade.
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From Bloomsbury . . .

Notoriously, Woolf doesn’t write about the women on whom she herself depended for home comforts but, mostly, about those who were educated and wealthy enough to write diaries or letters. But she was very aware of the limitations society forced upon all women, both socially and physically. And how much can be gleaned from letters that will never be written, let alone preserved, in our modern, high-speed age. She was writing at a time when letters were still the main method of communication.
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The Next Bob Dylan

The Next Bob Dylan

In 1950 guitars were rare in the UK and sales barely touched 5,000, but Elvis, Cliff and British rock ’n’ roll changed all that. In 1957, when Play in a Day was first published, annual UK guitar sales topped a quarter of a million and the number of people wanting to learn the guitar vastly outnumbered those capable of teaching it – a situation well understood by Bert, who wrote in his Introduction that he wanted his book to contain ‘the essential requirements of the lone student without a teacher’. It went straight to the top of the bestseller list and stayed there for several months. With sales to date totalling around 4 million, Play in a Day is the world’s biggest selling guitar tutor and it’s never been out of print.
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Kinsey Makes a Difference

There are authors’ deaths, announced casually on the radio, that provoke an involuntary cry of loss. The recent death of Sue Grafton, author of the alphabetically themed Kinsey Millhone detective novels, was one such. How could you not mourn a writer with whom you’d kept company – and 25 books – for 36 years? An added sadness was that she would not now complete her task of a book for every letter of the alphabet. We had had Y Is for Yesterday (2017) and awaited, confidently, Z Is for Zero. Except that now it won’t be. ‘In our family’, said one of her daughters, ‘the alphabet now ends with Y.’
SF magazine subscribers only
A Dickens of a Riot

A Dickens of a Riot

Last year I decided that I felt like reading Dickens at Christmas. Resisting the temptation to turn to old and reliable fireside favourites, I alighted instead on Barnaby Rudge. It seemed a choice that would fulfil two purposes: quenching my thirst for some Dickensian delights while teaching me something of an episode about which I wanted to know more. Barnaby Rudge is a historical novel, one of only two such novels Dickens wrote. It was published in 1841 and was the work he planned the longest and most carefully. Yet it is rarely read today and wasn’t very popular when it was published either. One contemporary critic apparently dismissed it as ‘Barnaby Rubbish’.
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In Search of Unicorns

In Search of Unicorns

Like Traherne Goudge was an ardent Anglican. But although religion can be an oppressive presence in her adult novels, in her children’s books it manifests itself merely as a sense of embracing safety. One of her obituaries quoted Jane Austen’s famous line from Mansfield Park, ‘Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery.’ Her fictional world is devoid of malice, which is why it was such balm to our childish spirits. Loyalty, kindness, affection, the wonder of nature, the smells of good, plain English cooking, a hot bath and clean clothes, the appealing personalities of pets: these are the things she celebrates. In Goudge’s children’s books, to use Louis MacNeice’s phrase, there is ‘sunlight on the garden’ and the equation always comes out.
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A Modern Pied Piper

For generations of children, Michael Morpurgo has been a kind of Pied Piper. No one is sure exactly how many books he’s written, but there are over 150 of them, and they are said to have sold, in total, more than 35 million copies. Many have become classics – Private Peaceful, which follows a First World War soldier through the last night of his life before he is executed for cowardice; Kensuke’s Kingdom, the story of a small boy washed up on an island in the Pacific; Why the Whales Came, set in the Scilly Isles in 1914.
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Incorrigible and Irresistible

Incorrigible and Irresistible

On our course we were studying Rochester, as published in the Muses Library edition, and while we were certainly impressed by the rage and ingenuity of his satires, most of us had fallen slightly in love with the limpid beauty of his lyrics – especially ‘Absent from thee I languish still’ and ‘All my past life is mine no more’. It was a little mysterious that this early collection should be kept under lock and key but, as I was briskly informed, this was an unexpurgated and obscene book, definitely not suitable for impressionable undergraduates. And, actually, would I go away now and only come back with written permission from my tutor? That is, if I really needed to return.
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Russian Roulette

I met Davidson in 1994 when Kolymsky Heights, his last and arguably his finest, was published. He was slight and unassuming, with expressive dark eyes that widened when I showed him my early proof copy and said how much I’d enjoyed it. How did he come to be familiar with the ‘howling wastes’ of Siberia, virtually closed to outsiders for decades, so chillingly evoked in the book? It was all based on factual research, he said simply; he had never set foot there.
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