New contributors to Slightly Foxed sometimes ask us which issue their piece is going to appear in and the truth is, we’re usually hard put to tell them in advance. One pleasure of SF is that we’re not bound by publication dates for new books, so we rarely plan a piece for a particular issue but instead welcome good contributions and select from what we have. We’ve always worked on the bran-tub principle that we’d like readers to dip in and find something unexpected that they wouldn’t normally have been looking for. But despite this, each issue does seem to come together with a particular atmosphere and character of its own.
Not unexpectedly, this issue has a somewhat autumnal feel that goes with evenings drawing in, fallen leaves underfoot and a chill in the air. It features, among other things, a hunting memoir, a look into the strange interior world of the neurologist Oliver Sacks, a tale of gothic horror, and memories from the courtiers who waited on Queen Victoria in the draughty drawing-rooms and icy bedrooms at Balmoral, where only the passages were heated. As Prince Albert said to the children’s governess Lady Lyttleton when asked one bitterly cold day to check her accounts: ‘Yes, certainly, if you will consent to my doing reel steps all the time to warm myself.’
Our latest Slightly Foxed edition also has a distinctly autumnal flavour. Richard Cobb’s A Classical Education (see p.11), written in his inimitable, minutely observed and quietly menacing style, is more like a psychological thriller than a straightforward memoir. Cobb and his friend Edward were given the ‘classical education’ of the title at their public school, Shrewsbury, where they became close enough to visit one another’s homes in the holidays. After school Richard lost track of Edward – until he read the appalling news that his friend had murdered his mother. Fourteen years later Cobb meets Edward again and looks back with wonder and dismay at the extraordinary events that led up to the murder.
There’s also another excellent addition to our Plain Foxed series – SFEs which have sold out in the limited edition but are still very much in demand. To War with Whitaker is the entertaining and down-to-earth diary kept by Hermione, Countess of Ranfurly, after she decided to follow her husband Dan to war when he was called up in 1939. Accompanying Dan was their characterful cook-butler Whitaker of the title. However, Yeomanry rules decreed that though officers could take their servants they could not take their wives. Undeterred, Hermione made her own way through the wartime chaos, working for the Special Operations Executive in Cairo, and for General Jumbo Wilson in Jerusalem. It’s a unique behind-the-scenes picture of the war in the Middle East and the Mediterranean as seen by a very unconventional aristocrat.
Finally, a reminder that Readers’ Day this year is on Saturday, 4 November at the Art Workers’ Guild, our home-from-home in Queen Square, London. There’ll be the usual selection of excellent speakers, plus the chance to visit our pop-up bookshop and enjoy the pleasure of coffee and chat with other Fox readers, so do book your tickets soon to avoid disappointment.