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Issue 74

1st June 2022

Slightly Foxed Issue 74: From the Editors

Summer is here and the square outside has come alive again. There are people walking their dogs or enjoying the sunshine at tables outside the café opposite the office. It’s a peaceful scene, but it’s impossible to forget that far away though ever-present is this year’s ugly backdrop of the war in Ukraine, not to mention the violence and suppression of free speech in so many parts of the world. We’ve never taken ourselves too seriously at Slightly Foxed, seeing it as essentially a place where readers can relax, enjoy good writing and, we hope, have a laugh occasionally. But in these deeply worrying and isolating times, it’s the comforting sense of fellowship and connection through books that readers tell us they get from Slightly Foxed which seems especially important.
- Gail Pirkis & Hazel Wood
From the editors
An Understanding Heart

An Understanding Heart

I can’t remember when I first read the magical trilogy that came to be known as Lark Rise to Candleford but, turning to it for comfort during the days of the 2020 lockdowns, I was struck afresh by the wonderful clarity and assurance of the writing. Most memoirs at the time Flora Thompson was writing were by comfortably educated, middle-class people, while she grew up as the daughter of a poor bricklayer in a small Oxfordshire village. Yet from the first sentence you feel the authenticity of her voice and know you are in the hands of an accom­plished writer. As her biographer Margaret Lane put it, ‘She was able to write the annals of the poor because she was one of them.’
In Nuristan with Carless

In Nuristan with Carless

Twenty years ago, I was due to give a talk at the Travellers Club about a recent expedition. I thought it would be much more entertaining for everyone if my friend Ned spoke about the perils of travelling with a travel writer. Eventually we also invited the retired diplomat Hugh Carless, a fellow victim, to talk about his own dire experiences at the hands of Eric Newby in A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush (1958). By then in his late seventies, Carless was charming, extremely modest and very funny. Rather unkindly, I thought, someone asked if his Foreign Office career had ever recovered from his merciless treat­ment. He laughed uncomfortably.
SF magazine subscribers only
An Appetite for Looking

An Appetite for Looking

‘Is Pevsner in the back?’ A familiar question from the driver when setting off for almost any destination in England – familiar not from my childhood (I don’t think there were Pevsners at home) but from years of adult friendship with people interested in buildings and places. Yes, here is Leicestershire in the footwell, and the seat pocket yields Nottinghamshire, which may mean that instead of driving straight past Hickling (say) we’ll take time to look at the ‘unusually rewarding number of engraved C18 and early C19 slate headstones in the churchyard’. If the church door is open we’ll find art of every century inside, from the ‘wild interlacing’ of a carved Saxon coffin to the ‘poor box, small, 1685, but still not at all classical’. We’ll even notice the door hinges on the way out, enjoying the extravagance of the medieval ironwork. Pevsner calls them ‘accomplished’.
SF magazine subscribers only
Unsuspected Depths

Unsuspected Depths

My sister gave me Copsford (1948). It was clearly a book she loved, and its author – Walter Murray – was someone we’d once known. So it seemed odd I’d never heard of it. It’s a strange, exhilarating book about a solitary year spent wholly absorbed in the natural world – a book in the tradition that runs from Richard Jefferies to Robert Macfarlane and perhaps has roots in Wordsworth too, and John Clare in saner moments. But though it has devotees and is reissued now and then, it has never been widely read. In fact most people, like me, have never heard of it.
SF magazine subscribers only
Of Captains and Khans

Of Captains and Khans

Many years ago, when it was possible to do such things, I hitchhiked to India. I travelled through Iran and Afghanistan, saw the Great Buddhas at Bamiyan, and rode through the Khyber Pass on the roof of a brilliantly painted truck with my hair blowing in the wind. Later, as the world changed and carefree travel became more difficult, I came across Peter Hopkirk’s The Great Game (1990) and was thrilled to read about the adventures of the first western travellers to those regions in the nineteenth century.
SF magazine subscribers only

Boxing Days

The jab that crunched into my nose before I had my guard up was a fine lesson in the importance of being prepared, but it is not a fond memory. Getting punched rarely is. A. J. Liebling, however, treasured the blow he received from ‘Philadelphia’ Jack O’Brien, an American pugilist already in his prime when Liebling was born in 1904. Liebling saw the punch as a precious relic, linking him to O’Brien’s era and the eras before that. Just think of the greats who had punched O’Brien, the greats who had punched them and so on back in time. Liebling was proud to be part of such a passage of punches.
SF magazine subscribers only
Fifty Years On

Fifty Years On

If, as I did, you came of age in the Sixties, then one rite of passage you may have undergone was reading John Fowles’s bestselling Bildungsroman, The Magus (1965), which provided, it was said, an experience ‘beyond the literary’ – in my case, a vicarious ego trip. How flattering to have so much time and energy expended in order to make you a better person! Even the indignant narrator, Nicholas Urfe, who compares what he’s been through to ‘exposure in the vil­lage stocks’, can scarce forbear to cheer: ‘that all this could be mounted just for me’.
SF magazine subscribers only

Dem Bones

Some thirty years ago in the National Museum of Guyana, amidst the geological, archaeological and historical artefacts in their display cabinets, there existed a carefully cordoned-off empty space. It consisted of a plinth covered in plush red fabric surrounded by gold tasselled ropes, as if waiting for secret royalty. I am not sure how many other countries set aside a space in their national museums for their ghosts, spirits and jumbies. Not many, I imagine. Behind the empty space hung various plaques with detailed sociological descriptions of each spirit, itemizing its habitat, appearance, customary behaviour and even dietary preferences, an attempt by the rational with its orderly classifications and categorizations to contain or overpower these disturbing beings.
SF magazine subscribers only

Guilty Pleasures

More often than not, a shelf of books is a statement about the person we wish to be. We carefully arrange the titles so our friends will gain a favourable impression of us, thinking that we are cultured, sensitive, politically aware or part of the rebellious avant-garde. Meanwhile, the books we really enjoy, our guilty pleasures, are hid­den from sight. It’s nice to know that not much has changed in 500 years. Apparently, scholars in Ming-dynasty China did much the same. The books on display in their studies were the Confucian clas­sics they had been forced to read to gain high positions in the civil service, while the books they really enjoyed were hidden under their mattresses. And these, quite often, were pulp detective novels.
SF magazine subscribers only
Read, then Cook

Read, then Cook

‘If you can read, you can cook.’ This was the simple, revolutionary philosophy behind Mastering the Art of French Cooking (1961 and 1970), written by Julia Child, Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle. Even with sixty years’ hindsight, the book’s lasting success is remark­able. In two volumes and running to well over a thousand pages of precise technical French cuisine it was launched on a nation of home cooks who knew little about la belle France, yet it became a runaway best-seller and catapulted one of its authors to fame.
SF magazine subscribers only
Lark, Hare, Stone

Lark, Hare, Stone

Memories of the British Empire may be receding around the world, but they live on in Ireland, the first and closest of Britain’s colonies. It is not hard to see why. For centuries all the techniques that would eventually be deployed to subdue various other peoples were initiated there: armed force, mass slaughter, the theft of land, economic and racial bullying, the suppression of language, enslavement, starvation. Then, as they cut their losses, the British played their final card – partition.
SF magazine subscribers only
A Tale of Two Villages

A Tale of Two Villages

For many people in the countryside, life just after the Second World War had not changed so very much from a hundred years before. When I was a young boy in the 1950s our family lived in a small farmhouse in mid-Wales, a couple of miles from the nearest village. We had no mains water or electricity; water came from a well through a hand pump in the kitchen; electricity was provided by a generator – when that burned out one night in November we relied on candles and oil lamps for the whole winter. There was no bathroom, only a tin bath hung on the kitchen door, and an outside privy. Neighbouring farms were much the same, and families scratched a living from the sheep dotted on the surrounding hills. The children spoke Welsh and English and sang Welsh songs on the school bus. Most people went to Chapel on Sunday. It all seemed perfectly normal and likely to last forever.
SF magazine subscribers only
Murder, Miracles and Myanmar

Murder, Miracles and Myanmar

As I had expected, I found the famous murder trials edited by Miss F. Tennyson Jesse on the shelves of the Law Library of the University of Victoria on Vancouver Island, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover a dozen more of her books in the main collection. It is a very young university – a mere sixty years old – and it replaced Victoria College, which itself had absorbed the Normal School, as the teacher training institute was originally known, and naturally took over their libraries. Presumably the young women preparing to be junior school teachers in the 1920s and ’30s enjoyed Jesse’s novels and plays, and so obviously did their instructors and the librarians, who of course make the real decisions about library purchases.
SF magazine subscribers only

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