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The River and Its Source

The River and Its Source

There are two memorials to Neil Gunn in his birthplace of Dunbeath on the Caithness coast. One is a statue and the other is a squat black typewriter. The typewriter is a mid-1930s Imperial. I have never much cared for the concept of sacred relics, but if pushed I could make a case for that typewriter. It was the one on which Gunn wrote Highland River (1937), a novel so exquisitely wrought that it conferred on his native landscape the gift of immortality.
SF magazine subscribers only
Waiting for Posterity

Waiting for Posterity

In 1786 Richard Wynne decided to sell his estate at Folkingham in Lincolnshire and go to live on the Continent with his wife and five daughters. The sale realized £90,000 and he had investments too; his wealth, eight figures in today’s terms, meant he could lead as elaborate an existence as he wanted, and the hope was that his wife’s health would be improved by living abroad. Moreover she was French, while his mother had been Italian and he had spent part of his youth in Venice, so perhaps it wasn’t as radical a step as all that. Then his fifth daughter had been born in 1786, so he might have resigned himself to never having a male heir to inherit Folkingham.
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A Hybrid Life

A Hybrid Life

By the time she was 14 and finally settled with her family in their own house in Totnes, Devon, Katrin FitzHerbert – or Kay Norris, as she was then – had lived in nearly thirty different places and attended no fewer than fourteen schools. To have lived such an itinerant life by such a tender age would be extraordinary in itself but, to make her story even more unusual, the homes and schools were in two countries, Germany and England. And there was a further complication. The Germany where she spent the first years of her life, moving from place to place and school to school, was the Germany of the Third Reich, the Second World War and the Allied occupation. For Katrin FitzHerbert, the author of True to Both My Selves (1997), was born Katrin Olga Ethel Thiele in Berlin on 6 June 1936.
1st June 2023

Slightly Foxed Issue 78: From the Editors

The past few months have seen some significant comings and goings at Slightly Foxed. Sadly, we said goodbye to Anna (or rather au revoir – once a fox always a fox) who understandably felt it was time for a change after being with us for nearly fourteen years. Many of you will have spoken to Anna, who was loved by everyone for her kindness and her can-do attitude, and admired for her wide reading and literary taste, which she often shared on the podcast. Nothing was too much trouble for her, and we’re really going to miss her.
- Gail Pirkis & Hazel Wood
From the editors
Giving up the Ghost | Part One: A Second Home

Giving up the Ghost | Part One: A Second Home

It is a Saturday, late July, 2000; we are in Reepham, Norfolk, at Owl Cottage. There’s something we have to do today, but we are trying to postpone it. We need to go across the road to see Mr Ewing; we need to ask for a valuation, and see what they think of our chances of selling. Ewing’s are the local firm, and it was they who sold us the house, seven years ago. As the morning wears on we move around each other silently, avoiding conversation. The decision’s made. There’s no more to discuss. About eleven o’clock, I see a flickering on the staircase. The air is still; then it moves. I raise my head. The air is still again. I know it is my stepfather’s ghost coming down. Or, to put it in a way acceptable to most people, I ‘know’ it is my stepfather’s ghost. I am not perturbed. I am used to ‘seeing’ things that aren’t there. Or – to put it in a way more acceptable to me – I am used to seeing things that ‘aren’t there’. It was in this house that I last saw my stepfather Jack, in the early months of 1995: alive, in his garments of human flesh. Many times since then I have acknowledged him on the stairs.
Hons and Rebels | The Society of Hons

Hons and Rebels | The Society of Hons

Unity and I made up a complete language called Boudledidge, unintelligible to any but ourselves, into which we translated various dirty songs (for safe singing in front of the Grown-Ups) and large chunks of the Oxford Book of English Verse. Debo and I organized the Society of Hons, of which she and I were the officers and only members. Proceedings were conducted in Honnish, the official language of the soci­ety, a sort of mixture of North of England and American accents. Contrary to a recent historian’s account of the ori­gin of the Hons, the name derived, not from the fact that Debo and I were Honourables, but from the Hens which played so large a part in our lives. These hens were in fact the mainspring of our personal economy. We kept dozens of them, my mother supplying their food and in turn buying the eggs from us – a sort of benevolent variation of the share-cropping system. (The H of Hon, of course, is pro­nounced, as in Hen.)
1st March 2023

Slightly Foxed Issue 77: From the Editors

There’s something very particular about the quiet months after Christmas – a time to hibernate, turn round and generally take stock. That’s what we’ve been doing here at the Slightly Foxed office, tidying up after the Christmas rush, reviewing our plans for the coming year and watching spring gradually arrive in Hoxton Square as the daffodils begin to emerge and the cafés tentatively put out their tables.
- Gail Pirkis & Hazel Wood
From the editors
‘String is my foible’

‘String is my foible’

A tarnished silver teapot. A tin of buttons, their parent garments long decayed. A bundle of yellowing letters, in my mother’s hand. Look: here she is, smiling in her nurse’s uniform in the photograph that used to sit upon the mantelpiece. But now she’s propped against moving boxes, still not unpacked. These are a few of the reasons why I cannot sit in my own front room, although there are more. It’s no use turning to Marie Kondo in this sort of situation; what I recommend is Elizabeth Gaskell. The narrator of Cranford (1851–3) knows all about hoarding. ‘String is my foible. My pockets get full of little hanks of it, picked up and twisted together, ready for uses that never come.’ And elastic bands – or, as Cranford puts it, India-rubber rings. Oh, don’t talk about India-rubber rings! ‘I have one which is not new,’ our narrator tells us, ‘one that I picked up off the floor, nearly six years ago. I have really tried to use it: but my heart failed me, and I could not commit the extravagance.’
SF magazine subscribers only
Shall I Be Me?

Shall I Be Me?

In the summer of 1953, briefly in London during the Coronation celebrations, I took myself to the Phoenix theatre (Upper Circle, 6s.) to see The Sleeping Prince, with the two glittering stars of the time, Laurence Olivier and his wife Vivien Leigh. Olivier had commis­sioned the piece especially for the season from the playwright Terence Rattigan, and the paper-thin plot had the Regent of Carpathia, in town for the 1911 Coronation, reluctantly mesmerized by a chorus girl. No play embellished by Olivier and Leigh could fail to captivate a popular audience, and this one had a good run – but for those with a more robust appetite it was really nothing more than a moderately tasty meringue.

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