Monday, 24 December 2007

Happy Christmas

I'm not going to be online much over the following days (at least that's the theory: as my sister is coming to stay and the office doubles as the spare room it can be tricky). The dog and I have started Christmas off with a bang when we both fell over in the mud; Mary Bantam has excelled herself by actually laying an egg (first since October); and I haven't yet wrapped a single Christmas present. When you spend every day of your life wrapping things, it's difficult (no, it's impossible) to round up any enthusiasm at all for more.

I hope everyone has a wonderful Christmas, with every possible book that you want, wrapped or unwrapped!

Monday, 17 December 2007

Just when you think

it's all going to go quiet it is anything but. Normally orders slow right down the week before Christmas, so I'd made all sorts of mental lists about what I was going to do: finish the Gillian Baxter interview, finish the Josephine Pullein-Thompson interview, do some much-needed work on the website.... Oh, and disinter the presents I have bought from the Amazon boxes and sort out what I still need to get...

But no. It's been frantic, and all I seem to have been doing is pack - but it did fall to my lot to walk the dog this evening. Fortunately the dog has moved on a bit since we got her. When we first had her, she was so nervous that if she wanted to bark at something, she would have to go behind a tree and do it from there. She was scared of the dark, and would only go outside after dark if one of us came with her and held her quaking labrador paw.

Now on our evening walks, which always happen after dark, she takes off up the dark track like a rocket. I'm very glad she's blonde, as at least I can see her. I've found I rather like evening walks. I like the world when the grass has turned silver and everything is still and quiet.

Friday, 14 December 2007

The Pariah Dogs

I don't think JPT would have minded what I turned up in, but my OH has Standards (and as you probably all know by now, I don't). As he was taking the day off so I could go to London I did feel a bit of compromise was called for... and had forgotten how warm London is in comparison to the Midlands. So, I wore the one smart coat, with a few dog biscuits sneaked into it, none of which were needed as I saw no animals and the only birds were pigeons.

It was the first time I had been into the new, refurbished and clean St Pancras. For years now going into St Pancras has been a case of being shunted out to the furthest depths of the platforms, followed by a mammoth trek to the underground, and what I was hoping for most was being able to draw into St Pancras proper, and not be shunted off somewhere far distant to make room for international travellers. St Pancras has always been "my" station, and there were all those iconic things about the journey that meant you were getting near London: the long tunnel, the gas holders, and then the wonderful station with its soaring roof and the giant clock.

The tunnel is still there, but only one gas holder remains (at least there's one - I'm grateful for that), and you do, thank the Lord, come into St Pancras proper. And I think they've done a really good job. I could have forgiven just about anything else as long as the trains came into the station proper, but it's wonderful. I loved the Betjeman statue - and can anyone look at it without following his gaze to see what he's looking at - and the pale blue ironwork works surprisingly well. I liked the enormous scale of the bronze statue of the lovers meeting .

When I saw the statue I thought goodness, I must have met someone like that in all the years I've been using this station, but I don't think I ever have: even when I had boyfriends who lived the other side of London I always went to meet them on their turf, and never them on mine. But if it came to it, I'd prefer to meet by the Betjeman statue anyway, because it is fun. And it is also quite near to the champagne bar. Alcohol is something I don't much like, generally, but I do like champagne. The really tragic thing about the bar though is that it has those raised chairs and counters. I was talking about this with my husband, as we rather fancied the idea of meeting at the statue and then having champagne, but the romance of the moment would, we thought, be rather wrecked by my needing a few minutes to recover from the chairs as they put too much pressure on my arthritic hips. Romance is a little different when you're in your forties...

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Off to London

which is a fairly rare thing for me, now that rail fares are so vile , but today I am going to meet Josephine Pullein-Thompson, which as you can imagine, is a darn good reason for going anywhere.

The one thing that is causing a bit of dissent here is what coat do I wear. It is freezing. The hens were very reluctant to stir, and the dog was whizzing around trying to keep warm, rather than trying to nick the birds' fruit. To me, it's obvious. Lovely water-proof Barbour with wonderful fluffy liner; complete with pockets of dog biscuits. No, says OH. Your one smart coat - it is warm enough. I am a chilly mortal and nothing is ever warm enough. Besides, I say, the dog biscuits will come in useful when I am being chased through the streets of London by hordes of wild pariah dogs. I can buy myself useful time by hurling dog biscuits at them. You never know.

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Judith M Berrisford

After a lot of huffing and puffing (including yet another load of corrupt links - why do these always surface when I am already frantic?) I have the Judith M Berrisford pages thereabouts done. For once, I have managed to find copies of nearly all her books (many, many thanks to Haffyfan, Dawn and SusanB who nobly filled gaps) - the one missing is Five Foals and Philippa, which I've just ordered. I'll be very interested to read it.

As regular readers will know, I am not JMB's biggest fan. I do think though, that she was very blessed with her cover artists. The Jackie series in particular, which was illustrated by Geoffrey Whittam, is a real charmer. I haven't seen all of the books, but I presume all the covers are by him.
Jackie and Babs, heroines of the Jackie series, I find are like puppies: incredibly enthusiastic, full of life, but prone to, every now and then, doing things you'd really rather they wouldn't. Ponymadbooklover, in this excellent post on her blog, says that Jackie and Babs manage to irritate just about every man that they meet. I have to say, although I am not male, they have just the same affect on me. I wonder if they irritated JMB? Did she herself have mixed feelings about the demon duo?

A week already?

It has been a frantic week - which is good from one point of view as at least I'm selling books, which all helps. Lovely though it is to have shelves of immaculate and expensive books, the Co-Op are strangely reluctant to take them, preferring good hard cash, so it's handy that the immaculate-but-expensive (as well as the used-and-cheaper) are being converted into cash. If this year's like any other, it will be frantic up until the middle of next week, when trade will suddenly die. Any orders there are will usually be by telephone, and the people who place them will start to have that stressed urgency in their voices which doesn't generally surface the rest of the year. Just before Christmas it is quiet, quiet, quiet, but the thing I have found over the last couple of years is that I get a lot of good orders over the Christmas period itself.

I have a few theories over why this is: people haven't got what they wanted or hinted for, so are making good now; they've decided to treat themselves as a reward for putting up with their vile relatives or are in holiday mood and have decided to indulge themselves. Still I don't mind why they order as long as they do, and a book is a lot less fattening than all those Christmas goodies. And love food though I do, I get fleetingly irritated by the way stuff I normally buy in the supermarket moves to accommodate a whole load of stuff I know we will never eat (yes, Waitrose, that's you). The Co-Op, I have to say, is much better and manages to integrate the Christmas stuff into its normal stock.

Although my son's and daughter's chocolate consumption shoots up to danger levels over Christmas, generally we don't eat much more than we normally do, and I would love to know if people actually do eat all that extra food. Every year I buy one of those rather nice boxes of chocolate biscuits from M&S and we're always so sodden with food (1001 ways of getting through the turkey.....) we don't actually eat the biscuits until well into January.

I am, however, very much looking forward to my sister's Christmas cake which last year was fantastic.... Eating Christmas cake chez Badger though is a strange affair involving careful dissection. My daughter doesn't like the cake so I eat hers, I don't like marzipan so my husband eats mine, which he will generally swap for the icing. Son wisely avoids the whole thing.

I am wavering off the point, though, so will stop.

Thursday, 29 November 2007


Today I ventured out beyond Peterborough to the excellent Peakirk Books, run by the equally excellent Heather and Jeff Lawrence (and Debi, and their wonderful Gordon Setters. Golly and I are in love. There is a picture of Golly here.) If children's books are your thing, then Peakirk is heaven, as that's what they stock: bookcase after bookcase, and shelf after shelf.

I went there to photograph some of their stock for the website, as they have a section dedicated to pony books as well as plenty of pony titles spread about the stock. So, photograph I did, with the result that the soon-to-hit-the-site section for Judith Berrisford now looks halfway decent, and there was also the hardback of Spanish Adventure, Rachel of Romney with a dj, Patricia Leitch's Black Loch, some Silver Brumbies with dustjackets, some Chipperfields with dustjackets... and lots and lots of other stuff.
There are pitifully few shops who specialise in children's books, let alone have an entire section for ponies, so if you are anywhere near, go. You will love it.

A quick thought

This is following on from the previous post. Coping with a hardback whilst reading in bed some of us find tricky, but the problem I have is reading at the table. Hardbacks I can cope with by propping them up on other books to get the slant, and the book then generally stays open of its own accord.

Paperbacks though are a totally different matter. You can't get the dratted things to stay open - or at least I can't, unless I deliberately break the spine, which I can't bear to do. Usually I resort to a peculiar arrangement of jam pots on their sides, propped over the bottom edge of the pages. This is fine until I want to turn the page (and I am a very fast reader) as then the whole thing has to be dismantled.

Does anyone have any better suggestions?

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Will the hardback disappear forever?

This follows on from the post about Gillian Baxter's reappearance in hardback. I am a dedicated Radio 4 listener, and recently heard a piece about the publishers Picador, who are going to release paperback versions of their books simultaneously with the hardbacks. As, apparently, most buyers want paperbacks, this is cause enough. (I can't find the programme on the BBC site, but here's the general thing in The Guardian.) I suppose there's an argument for this: the content of the book won't presumably change and if you read an author's golden words in paperback they're no different to their golden words in hardback.

But it's the book as an object that means so much, I think (this apparently means I am a book fetishist). The best hardbacks are objects of beauty: decorated endpapers, beautiful dustjackets and clean crisp pages which stay clean and crisp. I've put two very different versions of Monica Edwards' Cobber's Dream here. I know which I'd rather have.

Though having said that, I am very fond of the earlier Puffin paperbacks and have several series I've collected deliberately in that edition: Joan Aiken's Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Peter Dickinson's Changes and Barbara Willard's Mantlemass.

I do find though that the modern paperback is generally such an unattractive object, whose cheap rough paper browns at the edges within a year. Hey ho. Am I just a dinosaur?

Tuesday, 27 November 2007


I don't know whether Follyfoot was ever repeated: for me it's a creature of the 1970s, which happened on weekend teatimes. I watched Follyfoot of course, because it had horses in it, but I never liked it, or the books, as much as Monica Dickens' World's End series.

It was the hopelessness of some of the story lines, I think, that got me. It depressed me, and I like a bit of fight with my stories. Dora in particular I found difficult, though I suppose the desperate fight the Farm had to stay afloat, and its awful cases were at least realistic.

When I was doing the Monica Dickens page for the website, I came across this site: whose owners obviously didn't suffer from my dislike! So, if you are at all interested in Follyfoot, this really is the site for you.

I always thought the World's End series would make a good television series. It was one of my absolute favourites as a child. I cherished my Piccolo paperbacks, and I still have them (have not yet managed to upgrade them to beautiful firsts). The difference between the two series for me was that however awful life at World's End got (and things did get extremely sticky at times) things usually worked out, even if it wasn't as you expected, or even wanted. I loved Carrie and Lester, and her horse John, and the way she would ride him amongst the stars at night. And I liked the cast of adult characters; more or less concerned, and the frightful aunt tiptoeing amongst the animals trying not to touch them.

Gillian Baxter News

Evans, Gillian Baxter's publishers, have their fiftieth anniversary next year, and so are re-publishing some of their children's books. As far as I can tell from the very scanty information on their website (it's here in a PDF file, and you want page 12) the books are hardback versions of Ribbons and Rings and Tan and Tarmac. Evans are also doing some of Malcolm Saville's Buckinghams series, and Enid Blyton's Nature Lover's Book, which I absolutely adored as a child: it has the most enchanting pictures and I think I will be in the queue for one when they're published. The Savilles and Blyton are out in March 2008; the Gillian Baxters and a Worzel Gummidge in September 2008.

I'd be interested to know why they've decided to do this - does it have anything to do with the resurgence in re-publishing classics by companies like Fidra?

Still, it's been a very, very long time indeed since a hardback pony book with a dustjacket was published (except I suppose for some of K M Peyton's), so all power to Evans' elbow. I hope they sell well. Maybe if they do, Evans could be persuaded to re-issue some more.

Friday, 23 November 2007

Hazel M Peel

Whilst not packing away far more sweet stuff than my dentist would like, I have been hard at work on the Hazel Peel interview, and it's finished! It's here. I don't think Hazel would have had any truck with Cadbury corporate speak at all: she'd have been in there in the factory, mixing the discontinued stuff up herself and organising distribution!

In case you're wondering what on earth I am blethering on about, see my post on Memories; which is basically me giving my sweet tooth (or teeth: I do have more than one left) a trip down Memory Lane.


Earlier in the week my daughter bought me some Flying Saucers - which are sweets made of rice paper with sherbert in the middle. I hadn't had these for years and years; not since the days when my sister and I would trot off down the road and spend our sweet money at Tarry's. Tarry's was a tiny shop which sold absolutely everything, but the best thing as far as we were concerned was the wooden compartmentalized tray which held the penny sweets (and I'm talking 1d here, not 1p!) Mrs Tarry was the most remarkably patient woman, and would let you stand there for ages while you mulled over the delights of Fruit Salads, Black Jacks or milk bottles. We always hoped the shop would be empty when we went, as then we might be allowed into the kitchen behind to inspect the terrapins. Now you don't get that in Tesco.

A lot of the penny sweets seemed to feature liquorice, which I was never particularly keen on, apart from Sherbert Fountains, which can still be got today, and which I like to indulge in every now and then. The great disappointment with these was that the liqourice was never quite long enough to get to the bottom of the tube, meaning if you were messy and not that well co-ordinated (which would be me) that when you tipped the tube up to get the last of the sherbert disaster would follow. Another sweet that caused me a lot of grief at the time was Flakes, which under my inexpert munching would disintegrate into a thousand chocolatey particles, all equally determined to leap over the side of the wrapper. I am pleased to tell you I have got better at Flakes over the years, but think the adverts show Flakes eaten in the bath not because it is such a sensuous experience: it is the only way you can keep the blessed things under control.

I had some of my best sweet experiences in Tarry's, but there are so many things that have vanished now: to quote dear Cadbury's corporate speak:
"Consumer preferences change from time to time and as a major manufacturer it is
important that Cadbury maintain a wide range of products that are in line with
changing consumer demands."
There were large jars of what we in Northants called kayli, which was red sherbert which was quite incredibly vicious, toffee nuts, and little sherberty pips that came in red and yellow, and which you had to eat fast or they would pick up moisture from the air and stick together in an impentrable mass. And Amazin' Raisin Bars. I absolutely loved these but they have vanished without trace, victim of the corporate executioner.

Blimey. Have just googled Kayli to see if I could find any and IT IS A GIRL'S NAME now. Good grief. I wonder if there's any in Northants? Can't believe anyone here would call a child after a sweet, but then you never know. But I have just found this excellent site; I'd forgotten about Treets, and Spangles, and Texans. Really it's a miracle I have any teeth left at all.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007


Thank you everyone who emailed me and left messages. I am very grateful. As you've probably worked out, I survived the experience, and so did White Star, though it was a close thing for us both. When I try and look at this scan thing rationally, I know perfectly well that the odd doughnut shaped thing that is the scanner is not going to hurt me; and that I was not actually trapped, because if I made enough fuss someone would have come and let me out.

But that is not how I feel, which is terrified: pure, blind panic. When the radiographer came back in she said "You didn't enjoy that much did you?" Oh how true. I was holding onto White Star for dear life, and my heart was pounding fit to bust. There was one particularly awful moment when I thought I really couldn't bear it anymore, but I remembered to pray and felt a jolt of surprise when my heart rate instantly slowed down. Make of that what you will!

I hope I managed to keep still enough during it, but shook like a leaf and wept after I was released. Still, at least I have done it. Thank you all for your support.

Radiographer asked if my phobia affected my life - well no, as I have trained myself over the years to cope with lifts and the underground but there's not a lot of training you can do with CT scans is there? Unless you are unfortunate enough to need them a lot. And I do hope I don't. I have huge respect for Vanessa of Fidra, who has epilepsy and so has CTs and MRI scans and is now so chilled, having started off froma position of fear, that she sleeps through them. Cor. What a girl.

Monday, 19 November 2007

Urg. Arghhhh.

Tomorrow morning I have to have a CT scan, which I am not looking forward to even remotely as I am claustrophobic. My daughter has just come back from a week away with the school which included caving, including the notorious Letter Box - a narrow bit you have to wriggle through. Both my children flung (in as far as you can) themselves through this in their respective trips with joy; in fact I think they were both first in the queue. Now I also did this when I was at school, but it took them 45 minutes to get me through (and I still think very, very gratefully of my friends Anne and Deanne, one of whom coaxed at the head end while the other persuaded from the foot end.)

So the idea of having my head encased in whatever it is is making me a tad edgy. I am taking with me a white Britains farm horse called White Star, whom I have had since I was too young to remember getting presents. She is alas a bit brittle now, and only has 3 legs since she fell off the sink. I am hoping that if I clutch her in my paw, it will help, and I am also hoping I can remember the NCT breathing I last did over 12 years ago as well as manage just plain prayer. And I am also hoping I am not sick. Please God, let me not be sick.

So if I am a bit quiet for a couple of days it will be because I am still getting over the experience. I do hope, thinking about it, that I do not break more legs off White Star.

Saturday, 17 November 2007

Christine Pullein-Thompson

At last, at last, the Christine Pullein-Thompson bibliography is on the website. It has been an epic task, as she wrote over 100 pony books - surely the most of any pony book author? Unless Bonnie Bryant of Saddle Club wrote more. And that would only be true if Bonnie Bryant is in fact one person rather than a load of different authors writing under that name.
Huge thanks to Dawn of Pullein-Thompson archive who has been the most fantastic help. It really would have been very difficult to do it without her, as she has a much keener eye for detail than me, and also has an amazing collection which she is very happy to plunder for photos.
Christine PT is though the Pullein-Thompson I am most ambivalent about. There are some titles of hers I absolutely love: The Horse Sale, Phantom Horse, I Rode a Winner, and now I am older and can cope with romance, The Impossible Horse, but there are some I find tricky. I think it's the way her characters' despair is so total. One minute they're quite cheerful, and the next it is utter doom and gloom. I found that my own emotional response to the story lagged behind the characters' and felt I couldn't quite keep pace with their dizzying plunges: the book I'm thinking of particularly here is A Pony in Distress, which I read quite recently. She also seems to make a very determined effort to make her characters outsiders and that perhaps pushes her writing further than she was comfortable with.
I wonder too if the reason why I find some of her books uncomfortable is because they stray outside my own comfort zone? The world some of her books describe, from the 1970s at least, seemed alien to me, but then thinking about it, I went to a comprehensive (albeit one that was a grammar school when I started it). However, we weren't poor, and I didn't live in the inner city until I was much older. Hmmm. I'm not sure I've come to any very useful conclusions there.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Displacement Activity

Yesterday I was supposed to be painting another wall of my office, but it was so darn cold that even with three jersies on I couldn't face the thought of painting with the window wide open in a room that was already freezing. Plus, I had managed to lose my one and only radio and the thought of painting without the accompaniment of Radio 4 was just too much.

So, what shall I do, I thought? Orders were very sparse yesterday; I'd been cataloguing like mad and really didn't fancy doing yet more. I really needed to go through my old stock and reduce it before Christmas, but the book storage room has no heating. The woodpile outside badly needed some attention, which at least would have had the advantage of warming me up (wood warms you three times: once when you cut it down, once when you cut it up and then when you finally burn it), but I wimpishly couldn't face the thought of getting even colder before I got warmer.

So, I thought I'd look at all the things I'd been putting off doing for the website. Oh, the shame. Because I am such a master at displacement activity I like to have a lot of things on the go but I don't often go through my files to check up on all the things I have started. There were some things there I'd started 2 years ago, and not finished. Poor, bereft, lonely little bibliographies, there they were; enthusiastically noted down and then deserted. So I sat down and, armed with cups of tea which seemed to lose their heat within seconds (always a vaguely depressing experience) I got down to it.

And goodness, I thought, don't I like the obscure? I have now tackled most of the major pony book authors (with the exception of Judith Berrisford and Mary Gervaise) but they certainly weren't the ones I went for first. I'm not really sure why this is. Is it because I like ferreting out information that no one else has thought of putting out there? Goodness knows. Anyway, the fruits of my labours are now on the site here: not all obscure, but if anyone else has ever thought of writing something about John Thorburn's Hildebrand I'd like to know why.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Morning walk

I am normally incredibly slow at seeing birds on my walks with the dog. Although I have a perfectly good pair of binoculars (in fact, I have two) I almost never remember to take them with me. Pooh bag, lead and keys, and indeed dog, I can remember, though I have on occasion got outside the gate to find I don't have the lead, or slammed the door and then realised the keys are still in my bag. And I have had to call in on long-suffering neighbours when I have forgotten pooh bags. The dog knows what I am like, and makes sure when it is near walk time that where I am, she is.

Still, on our walk today, I saw a flock of long tailed tits in an ash tree. They were completely enchanting and took no notice of me whatsoever as they flew from branch to branch, chattering to each other. The RSPB says they can be seen all year round; but I only see them rarely and it is magical when I do.

Another bird I saw recently was a grey wagtail, which I saw out with a friend. My friends are mostly used to my getting very excited when I see a bird I don't normally see. My family regard the whole thing as another of Mum's little oddnesses. Strange then, that they are so very keen on Autumn Watch on BBC. What's the difference between me and Bill Oddie then, I'd like to know? Or maybe, actually, I wouldn't.

Monday, 12 November 2007

Go Cat Go

Our cat (small, black, mostly Oriental) and dog (blonde labrador) exist in a sort of uneasy truce. They don't like each other, and the dog thinks cats are things to chase. Cat soon learned that she could stand her ground and the dog wouldn't come near, at which point dog, who is quite bright for a labrador, developed a new trick. She would walk up to the cat, all quiet, and then suddenly erupt in the cat's face with a fusillade of ferocious barks. Cat would of course flee, and dog would bound after her. (There is a very shame-making photo of her doing this, when she looks like a slavering hound of the Baskervilles, but I won't share it with you!)

Cat has at last learned that this too, means nothing, and now stands her ground. So, peace of a sort reigns indoors. However outside, it was different, until yesterday.

I took dog out into the yard as I was going to be picking apples and didn't want her particular brand of "help". Dog was very happy to see OH and the Teenager, who were stacking wood, but then noticed the cat. She hurled herself after the cat; the cat took three bounds, and then skidded to a halt, obviously thinking "B****r this,", whirled round and yowled, spat and clawed at the dog, who put the brakes on fast. You could see her thinking "this isn't right: this isn't how it's supposed to be...." Cat spat again and dog returned, whimpering, to the safety of the woodpile. Sometimes, for a labrador, life isn't fair.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

November 11th

The Pony Book does romance

I was reading Christine Pullein-Thompson's The Impossible Horse recently, which I hadn't read in quite a while: mainly because it wasn't a book I remembered with much affection. However, on re-reading it I enjoyed it much more, and wondered why this was.

When I started senior school at the age of 11, all my friends loved ponies and that was what we talked about. However, when we came back for the second year (what is now year 8), it was as though someone had waved a magic wand. Only a few of us still wanted to obsess about ponies: with all the others it was boys, boys, boys. I was completely horrified by this: there were a few (a very few) boys at the stables but they were generally very wet and tended to cry when they fell off, which I regarded with contempt. We were generally a very female family, and I didn't meet boys really much at all: school was all girls. So, I decided firmly that I was going to stick with ponies, and so I did, for years (you will be able to tell, from the fact that I am married, that my resolution did eventually give out).

But this, I think, is why I didn't like The Impossible Horse. It wasn't my dream. To have a pony was; a boyfriend would have petrified me. I wonder if this was why CPT wrote this book under a pseudonym - Christine Keir - as it was aimed for a very different market.

I read Pony Club Camp, with its romance between Noel and Henry when I was much older, and I loved it, mainly because it was so very lightly drawn. Heartland is much more overt: the relationship between the heroine and her boyfriend is right there at the heart of the books, but then American pony books were always much more upfront about romance, even in the 1950s.

I've been trying to remember if there's even the merest hint of romance in the Jill books. Certainly as far as Jill and Ann are concerned there isn't. In fact, the books are strangely short on the portrayal of normal relationships. It's like the Archers in a way - there are so many characters who simply don't seem to appear. How about Mrs Cholly-Sawcutt? And Mr Darcy? And Mr Derry? Jill's father of course was killed off before the books started.

The only marriage I can think of where both partners appear is that of Martin's parents.

The vast majority of women in the book appear without their husbands, even if they do presumably have them, or are spinsters.

But the Jill books are undoubtedly the most popular section on my website - by really quite a long way, so maybe this complete absence of romance; the safety of predictable relationships; is what most children actually want.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

It was the horse whodunnit

At least, that's what my family always thinks. I had to go and see the ENT consultant today about the disaster area which is my nose. I'd always thought I had sinus problems, but apparently I have a septum which is bent, almost certainly caused by an old injury, and it's now disrupting my airflow, apparently.

I rang my OH to tell him what the diagnosis was, and his response was "Well, that was caused by that horse who catjumped and hit you in the face."

Then I rang my Mama, and she said: "It was that horse that reared and came over backwards with you."

No - no. The catjumper cracked my jaw, but got nowhere near my nose, and the rearer left me shocked but blessedly unhurt, unlike poor Sonia in The Impossible Horse. It was Adeline Burnett, when we were at Junior School. We were playing house rounders, I was bowling; she was batting. She was a phenomenal hitter, and mis-hit the ball straight at my face. It was a complete accident - she was even more distraught than I was.

So - has your equine career left you unscathed? Or are you a tapestry of horse-inflicted scars? And if any of my family are reading this: look away now. I'm only kidding. Horses don't hurt.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Ta Da!

I've wanted for a while to provide somewhere where people could contribute new pony stories. As we all know, most publishers aren't interested in the traditional pony story, so I thought it would be good to give people who write them (and I do know there are some of you out there!) a place where you can put your stories, and which will introduce them to a wider audience.

I have (looks bashful) put a short story of my own on to start things off.

There's also a section on the forum where you can start discussions on pony and other books. I've been quite aware while I've been blogging that it's very much what I want to talk about - here is the chance for you to start things off. In an unashamed attempt to get you to look at the Forum, I've put some information on about Patricia Leitch, with whom I've recently been in touch.

And where is this new marvel? It's here: Jane Badger Books Forum.

Do let me know what you think.

Best wishes

Monday, 5 November 2007

A cheery sort of post

Well actually it isn't, not even remotely. I was reading Pullein-Thompson Archive's excellent blog, in which the question of ponies in pony books dying came up, and that set me thinking. I think it's in DPT's Pony to School in which Seaspray, Pier's and Tilly's grey pony, dies of tetanus. This made a terrific impression on me at the time, as I can't think, offhand, of any other pony book I read as a child in which a pony dies, and I think it was a particularly strong bit of writing on DPT's part.

People are killed off, though generally before the book starts (Jill's father, Carmen's parents in Sheila Chapman's books). Heartland is unusual I suppose in establishing the heroine's mother as a character before killing her off in the first book.

There is of course Ginger, in Black Beauty, which in some ways I think is the least miserable of the deaths: you feel relief that Ginger's awful sufferings are at last over, although there is also the grief that she had to go through it all in the first place. Other ponies I can think of who die are John Steinbeck's The Red Pony - not a book to be read if you're feeling a bit under the weather - and there's Pamela MacGregor Morris' Lucky Purchase, in which the lucky purchase, who is old at the start, dies when the book is nearly over. This is another one that really affects me: the whole thing is treated very well, with the depths of emotion the heroine suffers suggested but not hammered home. The magic pony in Patricia Leitch's Jinny book of the same name dies, but I can't think offhand of any others by her. I have read a few Heartland titles, but can't remember if any horses die.

K M Peyton's race horse in the last of the Ruth series (Free Rein - but that might be the American title - apologies for not being able to remember the UK one) dies too.

My mind is a complete blank at the moment as far as ponies dying in any of the Pullein-Thompson's books go. Do let me know what else you can think of.

I'm interested in the whole thing I suppose because pony books are often accused of being poorly written genre fiction; and although some are, I think that's just as unfair as saying Ian Rankin must be bad because he writes genre fiction, when this is very far from the case. The best pony books don't shy back from tackling real life; or indeed, death.

Saturday, 3 November 2007

The blonde dog does it again

Yesterday morning dog and I went out for our early morning walk, accompanied by my friend and her three retrievers. Dawn and I were deep in conversation and realised too late that the two blondes had hurled themselves into what is a pond in summer, but is now just 6" or so of mud. Still, we got them all out of that and headed on. The next thing we heard was a thunder through the undergrowth and some ominous splashing. They'd found a pond they'd always ignored before (and which we'd forgotten about too) and they all emerged reeking of stagnant water; the two blondes an interesting shade of grey, tinged with black slime.

But we weren't too worried: there was a big pond further on which is usually clear and not stagnant and they did all clean off quite well in there (I did feel a bit for the wildlife they disturbed, but succeeded in shoving the guilt firmly down). So, by the end of the walk, I was feeling fairly smug, as I had a dog who was wet but not smelly or muddy.

However, hubris...... hubris..... dog disappeared around the corner, and emerged back almost instantly daubed from head to foot in fox poo - and this was a fox that had obviously not agreed with what it ate last, as what it had left behind was liquid, and had transferred itself effortlessly to my darling dog. She reeked, she stank, she dripped.... but she was happy. It wasn't quite as bad as the time she rolled in an extremely dead squirrel, but it wasn't far off.

These shops that sell clothing for your dog have got it wrong, so wrong. It may be what the human wants, but it isn't what the dog wants. So, as my Christmas special, Jane Badger Books is branching out. I give you Fox, a scent for today's cool pooch. Want the rest of the pack to smell you and think "WOW - there's a dog prepared to get in touch with their primal instincts?" Then Fox, lovingly prepared from only the freshest ingredients, is for you.

Alternatively, there's Corpse Reek: for that special hunt. Always chasing squirrels and never catching them? Do rabbits laugh when they smell you coming? You'll laugh now when you wear Corpse Reek. Catch your own Christmas Dinner the Jane Badger Books and Scent way.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

More pondering

I am painting my office at the moment, having finally decided that the delicious Laura Ashley flowers which cover everything and have done for decades really have to go. All our ceilings are high, but the walls in this room measure 10' 6". Why is it that when I am at the top of the ladder, with a large paint pot only just balanced on the top step, and two paintbrushes clutched in my paw, that the phone rings? And why is it that, every time it rings, I answer it, when I have a perfectly good answering service?

Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Caroline Akrill - news

Fidra books will be re-publishing Caroline Akrill's excellent Eventing trilogy. Regular readers will know I am a big fan of this: the Fane sisters, for whom Elaine-the-would-be-eventer works are inspired creations and I think these books are some of the very few pony stories to be laugh out loud funny, as well as touching. The scene where the big grey (I am writing this at speed and I can't remember his name) is re-united with his former, now horribly arthritic owner, makes me cry.

A few months ago I interviewed Caroline, and the results are on my website here.

Monday, 29 October 2007


One thing I have noticed since we acquired a yellow dog is that she has a magical attraction to mud. We often walk with a friend and her retrievers: 2 flatcoats and a golden, and it is always the blondes who head straight for the muddy squalshy bits. I know that if you're a black or a brown dog of course the mud doesn't show as much, and I do wonder, why, when I filled in the forms for the rescue society from whom we got Holly, I wasn't a bit more specific when filling in the bit about what sort of dog we wanted: I bascially said anything as long as it wasn't about to die, when what I should have said, bearing in mind my aversion to cleaning, was any colour that doesn't show the dirt.

In my attempts to avoid a full wash-down situation with buckets and shampoo, I try rubbing the dog briskly with one of our vast collection of dog towels (our towels are all so ancient now virtually all of them are dog towels. She is much better off for them than we are) which does transfer the mud reasonably well, but then of course one has to wash them, and the combination of mud and labrador hair then blocks the machine, which I then have to unblock. So I am doomed, doomed to spend time I do not want to, cleaning, whether it's the dog or a recalcitrant machine.

When I was little I used to spend most of my holidays with my grandmother, who still owned a bit of the family farm, down the side of which was the magical Roadway. One of my guilty childhood pleasures was squelching down its length in bare feet and sploshing the mud between my toes. Delicious, and a wonderful wild change from my white ankle socks and sensible Clark's sandals.

The Roadway led down to the River, but not directly, as we had to detour round our Great Uncle's field to get there. There were two great forbiddens in my childhood: the River - never to be gone into, or we would be dragged under and drowned by the terrible Weeds - and crops. Absolutely never, under any circumstances, were we allowed to walk across crops. Once my sister and I were in a hurry to get to the River, and after taking a careful look around we decided there was no one about, and we could risk it. We belted across the field, and of course the seedling crops.

It wouldn't happen now, when many farms are worked by one or two people, but we were seen. When we got back to my grandmother's my great uncle was waiting. Recently I had to cut the corner on one of my walks to stop the dog from eating a dead rat, and had to, oh the horror, tread on the crops. I felt the guilt for days.

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Photos in pony books

Birte sent me this lovely photograph, which is from Golden Gorse's The Young Rider's Picture Book, published by Country Life in 1936. I love the group of Shetlands, with their solid little riders; presumably solid because they were wrapped in so many layers of woollen vests and tweeds. Is anyone else old enough to remember Chilprufe wool vests? These were thick, scratchy vests, made thicker and scratchier if washed at too high a temperature. A few years ago I found one my mother had saved: so I have proof her washing technique, at least when it came to woollen vests, ruthlessly suppressed comfort in the interests of thickness, and presumably warmth. These vests were a stalwart of my childhood, but by the time I started riding I had rebelled and no longer wore them.

Photographs, being of course of real events, transport you much more directly to the past than pictures, which, style of jodphur and total absence of the flash noseband apart, are reasonably timeless. Though thinking about it, the ponies themselves are timeless. A Shetland is a Shetland is a Shetland. The three on the right are having what looks like a fascinating talk, but can I, fan of Animal Magic, constant manufacturer of conversations for the dog to have with my daughter, think what they are saying? I cannot. If you have any ideas, do please say...

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

The Teenageer does Slum Survivor

and no, this is not a comment on the state of his room. This weekend the teenager and some of his friends are going to build themselves shelters and live outside to try and understand what life is like for people who have to live in real slums. They will only be allowed 2 meals a day, and cannot change their clothes. Frankly the last will be of no hardship whatsoever to my boy, but the 2 meals a day will hit him hard.

Besides making people understand how many people have to live their lives, the whole thing is being sponsored to raise money for Soul Action. This is the online giving page, and we'd all be very grateful if you could sponsor them.

Last weekend the teenager spent camping in the Peak District for the Duke of Edinburgh award, and it was cold, cold, cold. Even my tough boy, who usually strides off to school on the most vile day in just his shirt sleeves (WHY do teenage boys do this?) said he was frozen. I just hope the weather's not too bad this weekend, and wish them all lots of luck and above zero temperatures.

Monday, 22 October 2007

The Garden

This blog is supposed to be about my gardening attempts as well as books, but you would never know it at the moment. After a whirlwind of activity earlier this month in a desperate attempt to get the front garden ready for its stint as a location for stalls for the church's Scarecrow Festival, activity there has been none.

The back garden is a sad, and overgrown disaster. The terrace is looking particularly bad after I took up a couple of the vile concrete slabs to uproot a decent sized rosemary bush which was growing between them, and left the slabs where they lay. I plan to get rid of most of the slabs (they will have a second life either as things to be used by a magician friend, who will balance them on his stomach while someone clobbers the slab with a sledgehammer, or I'll freecycle them, which would certainly be a duller existence than journeying around the county and being smashed up.) Eventually, after meaning to for months, I will replace the evil slabs with gravel.

The borders are still full of tall and noticeable weeds, and the grass is crowded (we went beyond dotted some time ago) full of windfalls I haven't picked up in weeks. However, as the grass has not been cut for some time this is becoming less of a problem as the windfalls are simply less visible. Added to this it is of course Autumn, and that means falling leaves. I love Autumn when it is in the street or the wood and I can kick through leaves which I have always liked doing since a child, but I absolutely loathe raking up leaves from the lawn. It ranks with ironing, which is possibly my most hated housework task, as my most hated gardening job.

I can guarantee that whenever I finally prod myself into doing something about the leaves, an evil squall will spring up from nowhere and whirl the leaf piles I have carefully created into scattered chaos.

Still, on the slightly more cheerful front, I have, at last, planted my garlic. Three rows of it, and I hope it doesn't suffer as badly from rust as this year's lot did.

Saturday, 13 October 2007

Should ponies be pink?

Many thanks to Susanna for sending me the link to this article in The Guardian.

It's interesting. As the owner of a girl, I've looked at the sort of covers that are prevalent now on books aimed at girls, and thought "hmmmm" to myself. Aiming books at one sex or the other of course isn't new: in the 1920s to 1940s if you saw a book with girls thundering down a hockey field on the cover you'd be pretty sure boys weren't its target audience. And publishers after all do need to sell the books, and badging them means people who like that sort of book know in advance they're getting something they'll probably like. I do it myself when bookhunting - I can spot a 1970s and older Puffin paperback at 20 paces.

And covers do make a difference. My daughter still hasn't read Ballet Shoes, as despite my having several lovely early Puffins, she wants to read the one with the funky new cover. Never mind the fact what's inside is (probably) identical; that doesn't matter to her. And we still haven't resolved that one as I've refused to buy her the new one when we have several perfectly good albeit "old fashioned" ones at home.

As a much younger girl she was a huge fan of all things pink, and, I shudder to say, that vile parody of a pony My Little Pony. It's almost impossible to steer clear of pink because even if you don't buy it for them, someone else will, and I'm not hardhearted enough to take things away from her. With the princess thing, I don't mind so much its swathing in pink and glitter, because it is a fantasy: 99.999% of the population are never going to see a princess, much less be one. I do very much more mind roping ponies into this fantasy world.

Ponies are living, breathing things: they may be cuddly, but they also kick, bite, have worms, escape, refuse to do what they're told: in short, they're real. Owning a pony is of course a fantasy for many of us, but we can still have the odd lesson, and there are ponies generally around in the world, unlike princesses. Treating a pony as a bit of cuddly cutesomeness does seem to me to be the most dreadful bit of cynicism.

I asked if ponies should be pink - the argument Jordan's publishers use is that her books will encourage young girls to go on and read pony books. The amount of people who already read the immensely successful Heartland and Chestnut Hill books without ever having read a Jordan because after all they've only just been published, does rather give the lie to that.

Friday, 5 October 2007

What do you think? Should Jill be updated?

I posted news of Jill's republication on the Saddle-up boards, and some people there thought that the prices in the Jill books should be updated, so I wondered what readers of this blog thought. (At first I thought they meant the original cover prices should be kept too, which strikes me as an admirable idea: after all, the initial Armada paperbacks were 2/6 (12.5 p to those of you born post-decimal) and that seems a darn fine price to me, though I can see that Vanessa at Fidra might not think so....)

But anyway. From one point of view, I can see what they mean. When I read a book in which the pony is bought for £15, it obviously reads oddly, particularly if that's the only mention of price in the book. On the other hand, if the characters have been talking about buying sweets for 2d that puts it in context - the more the prices are put in, to me the more normal it seems.

And the major problem about updating prices is of course that they will very soon be out of date - whether the price of horses crashes and you can get a cracker for £100, or whether it disappears into the stratosphere. I wonder if there's any case for removing pricing altogether? Though it's difficult to see how this can work in Jill's Gymkhana, with the Bring and Buy Sale.

Thursday, 4 October 2007

Jill lives again

Fidra Books, who as many of you will know have republished Six Ponies and Fly-by-Night, have acquired the rights to all of the Jill series, and will start to issue them next year.
They will have the full original text, so Black Boy will be Black Boy, and not Danny Boy or any of the other things with which he might have been afflicted, Challenges for Jill and Jill and the Runaway will head for the hills, and all the Caney illustrations will be back in place.
Hurrah! The Jill section is far and away the most popular section on my website, so hopefully these new additions will mean she can enchant today's pony-mad children. And their parents, of course.

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Wireless - hah

We decided a couple of weeks ago to go wireless, as this would mean I could move the computer back down to the study, rather than upstairs where it has been since we got broadband. One penalty of living in a very old house is that it has had odd things happen to it over the years, which as they would cost a fortune to sort out and there are more important things needing attention, like buildings actually falling down, we have learned to make do with where we can. So, when, after 3 BT engineer visits and countless hours on the telephone, we were told there was only one place broadband would go unless we completely re-did our telephone wiring from scratch, we decided to live with it.

But wireless, we thought, would solve all our problems. Two weeks of mind bending frustration later, I am here to tell you it did not. Initially all was well, but then day by day the service got worse and worse, no matter what we did. Last week I ended up with no internet connection at all, which when your business depends on it, is not good. I did wonder if it was me - literally, as I am one of those people who cannot wear a normal watch because they send them mad. So am I death to wireless? Who knows. At any rate, we are now back to our dear modem and I am at least, most of the time, in touch with the rest of the world.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

A Jill Question

I've just been asked a question about the order of the Jill books. In the original order of publication, Pony Jobs for Jill is the eighth book, (and it says quite clearly on the spine of the first edition hardback: "This is the eighth Jill Book"), but when the paperbacks came out Pony Jobs (and Challenges, as it became) are book number 6.

Does anyone have any theories about why?

Friday, 21 September 2007

Alas, poor hen

Last week, Mother Hen, the oldest of our hens, vanished - not even a few pathetic feathers. That same evening, we found Matilda on the wrong side of the gate. We have no idea what happened. There has been a bird of prey hovering around, but it doesn't look big enough to have taken her, or dumped Matilda outside the gate. I am not good on raptors, but I think this is a sparrow hawk, which I would have thought was too small. Hen harriers are presumably called that for a reason, but I'm fairly sure we don't have them round here.

Sigh. Mother Hen was by far the nicest and most friendly of our hens, and an excellent layer too.

So, we are left with Matilda, whose tail, I am pleased to report, is coming on nicely and she's looking a lot better now she's nearly finished her moult. In mid moult she looks as if she is falling apart. Feathers trail from everywhere and I was very tempted to pick her up and give the feathers a helping hand, but she can be a bit pecky so I decided to leave her to it.

The bantams moult very gradually, but as Mary is starting to fly, it's obviously going to be time soon to clip wings again. The bantams do not approve at all of the recent fall in temperature. They hunch up on the perch, and glower at me, as it is obviously All My Fault. As they are being so vile at the moment (they bully Matilda, despite being half her size) I felt no guilt at all in shutting them up for the day this week. They are shockers at hiding their eggs and as they're free range, and I'm idle, I'm not going to trail round after them for hours in the hope that I might happen across them carefully putting eggs somewhere they hope I won't find them. A day inside usually persuades them that laying in the boxes is not that bad an idea. At least until the next time.

Friday, 14 September 2007

The worst pony book ever?

I was inspired by reading this post on another blog, as I have a few candidates of my own for this. It's quite rare that I fail to finish a book, but I did with Joan Dicken's Jill and Prince the Pony, which is real grade A stinker. I doubt even as a pony-mad child if I could have struggled through the waves of boredom which the pedestrian plot and characterisation roused in me, but as an adult I just couldn't. I failed.

Others I struggle with are Judith M Berrisford's A Pony in the Family series. This is supposed to be an educational series, teaching children how to look after ponies and ride. The educational bits are triggered when the hapless younger sister gets something wrong, which is when her hideously sanctimonious elder sister sails in and patronises her until any realistically written character would have shoved the elder girl face first into the muck heap and made sure she stayed there for a while. But no, she takes it all. The whole think makes me gnash my teeth in frustration that I cannot be the one to issue retribution.

There are other books I don't particularly like (the Silver Brumby books after Silver Brumby Kingdom, the Three Jays, J M Berrisford's Jackies) but the ones above are the ones that really get me venting.

Friday, 7 September 2007

The Teenager meets old technology head on

I don't normally blog about my husband and children as they never asked me to blog in the first place and I don't fancy evil stares at the dinner table when I have written about something they'd rather I didn't.

However, I have the teenager's full permission for this one. At the beginning of the week, before they'd gone back to school, I came back from a journey out with my daughter, and wandered upstairs to tell the son I was back. I could hear music coming from his room, but there always is. This piece did sound familiar, but in a very odd way. Once I'd got as far as The Room, I'd recognised the music: it was Simon and Garfunkel's Sound of Silence, but it didn't sound quite as I remembered it - I thought that it was one of those sort of combined efforts something like Simon and Garfunkel feat. Soggy Dogs. Sampling, that's the word.

Then I saw that son had fixed up my record player in his room - quite a feat in itself as it has a thousand wires, and some of them have to be pinched in not plugged. And then it dawned on me. Son may know all sorts of things about MySpace, mobiles, dvds &c &c &c, but he does not know that records come in different speeds. Quietly, resisting all efforts to shriek, I explained to him the archaic terms 45 rpm and 33 rpm, and that when you were playing an LP (he now knows it stands for Long Player) 33 rpm was best. The slightly sad thing is that it was his second listen to that side, and he'd enjoyed it as it was..... but records, he tells me, are cool.

Unfortunately for the son, his room is next to my study - sound travels effortlessly between the two and I know every word, every one of all the LPs of mine that are now in his room, and I like to sing along.

Thursday, 6 September 2007

The Moon Stallion

I said I would write more about this, so here goes. The book is a novelisation of a 1970s BBC serial (which completely passed me by). It's not really a classical pony book - more a story that happens to have a horse in it.

The Moon Stallion of the title is a white horse who is connected to the White Horse of Uffington. The story is set in either late Victorian or Edwardian times (it's not specific) and opens with an archaeologist, Professor Purwell, and his children, Diana and Paul going to Uffington. The Professor has been asked by Sir George Mortenhurze, a local squire, to seek out the true facts about the historical King Arthur.
It soon emerges that Mortenhurze, and Todman, his stablemaster, and it turns out, a horse warlock, have designs on the Moon Stallion - Mortenhurze because he wants revenge on it for having, he thinks, caused the death of his wife, and Todman because he wants the power the Moon Stallion has. The plot centres around Diana, who is blind, but who has a connection with the Moon Stallion and does in fact turn out to be the Moon Child.
I won't give the plot away completely, though it does end pretty much as you would expect. Novelisations aren't always the most successful literary form, and this one doesn't do much to improve the genre. The author (Brian Hayles) has a disturbingly literaral approach, and it is as if he is describing exactly what he sees on the screen - as he was a scriptwriter this is possibly why. It leads to a mire of redundant adjectives and description, and left me longing for a red pen to get rid of all the verbiage. Here's an example:
"Thank God you're safe, child!" whispered Purwell into his daughter's hair, as he hugged her to him, not ashamed to cry as her gentle fingertips caressed his face. Paul bubbled over with excited laughter and cheerfully pulled Estelle into the heart of the family confusion.
You might have spotted that Purwell whispered: and in the whole book no one ever says anything: they demand, retort, grunt, smile... All of this makes the book a bit of an effort to read. The constant packing in of far more words than are necessary makes it tedious in places, and instead of introducing emotional subtlety it's rather more as if you're being hit over the head by an author who is constantly trying to impress you with the accuracy of their description.
"A shadow crossed her face, and she called out, into the shadowy interior, quietly troubled."
Why quietly troubled? Just troubled would have done. Maybe if I'd seen the TV series, I'd have had enough of a sense of magic for the story to have taken over, but it just didn't work for me.
If any of you saw the series, I'd love to know what you thought of it. And indeed, the book.

I am sorry about the total absence of line breaks - try as I might I can't get any to appear. The Moon Stallion obviously doesn't approve of this post.

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Behind, behind, behind

I am. Having had a week off (spent in Scotland, and utterly wonderful, about which more later) I have now come back to earth with a big, fat bump. Just before we went away someone said to me, having just told me an alarming bit of news about one of the things with which I am involved: "I hope it won't spoil your holiday." "It won't," I said. I may be a bit short on time-management abilities, memory skills and a host of other things, but at putting things I don't want to think about firmly out of my mind for the week of my holiday I think I have few equals.

However, even I cannot fend off the thought of the Inland Revenue for ever (which wasn't by the way, the alarming thing: that turned out to be merely worrying), so I am now in the throes of finalising the business accounts. Every year I say firmly to myself that I will make sure every bit of paper is irretrievably filed, but every year something goes missing. Most years it has been a bank statement, but they're all there: this year I have managed to mislay entire files of household things I need bits of information from. Hey ho.

Still, not long to go, and then I will be able to catch up on emails (thank you very much to everyone who has: I'm not ignoring you: you're constantly in my thoughts but at the moment the Revenue is even more so) and everything else. And there's such a lot of everything else...

However, I have managed to read about a third of Moon Stallion as a bit of light relief from tax. Somehow I managed to miss this when it was on telly in the 70s. More about that later too, but I shall, I think, have quite a lot to say about it.

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Horses on Children's TV

A post on Mutterings and Meanderings' blog reminded me of the horsey programmes I used to watch.

My absolute favourite horsey programme was White Horses, which for those of you not lucky enough to be born when I was, was a German programme about a Lipizzaner stud, dubbed into English. I think there's a certain section of horsey society out there who can sing along with every single word of the theme song. And Boris, ah Boris.... there was a horse. Ferreting about on the internet when I should have been doing other things, I found this site, dedicated to the series, and which is going to re-issue it on DVD. Oooooooh.... oooooooooooh. When it's out, I shall buy one, and an extremely large box of chocolates and watch it all with my sister, my partner in our television crimes.

Fortunately White Horses was on BBC1 as for most of my childhood we had a tv that only received BBC1, and when we did get a telly that got more chanels, my mother issued an edict that ITV was bad and we were not to watch it. Magpie, I remember, which was ITV's answer to Blue Peter, she particularly loathed. We did of course watch it, meaning one of us would listen out for my mother coming along the hall, while the other would be poised next to the telly, ready to switch it on to something more wholesome on BBC1...

Monday, 20 August 2007

A new pony books blog

There's a new blog on pony books: it's started off with Diana Pullein-Thompson's Donkey Race and is going to feature all of the Pullein-Thompsons' books. Donkey Race isn't one I've actually come across, but having read the review I'm going to try and find one!

What I've been reading: a mixed bag

I've been keeping the office ticking over this month as the family are home, which does have the useful side effect of letting me catch up on my reading. I was asked last weeks to identify a book (it was Three Great Pony Stories) which includes Joanna Cannan's They Bought Her A Pony. This, I suppose, as it was printed in a couple of anthologies was the easiest Joanna Cannan to get hold of before Fidra started their reprints, but it's never been my favourite.

Once I had dug out the copy I have I decided to read it again: I wondered before I started it again whether distance would have leant any enchantment (it took me a few years to appreciate K.M. Peyton's Fly-by-Night). Alas, it still left me with a vague feeling of dissatisfaction. They Bought Her a Pony is the only title of JC's (I don't count Hamish) not written in the third person, and I wonder if that is why the book doesn't quite work for me. JC is much better, I think, at revealing nuances of character when she uses the first person. Angela Peabody, the rich girl who is bought a pony, doesn't really satisfy as a character: she shows a few sparks (she saves her tatty ornaments from her disapproving mother, and does briefly contemplate showing them to the Cochranes when they come for tea) but apart from that she is simply nasty, shallow and snobbish, and I don't find her decision at the end of the book to look for help with her pony from the Cochranes convincing.

JC's daughter, Josephine, tackles the same subject of rich girl meets comeuppance much more successfully in I Had Two Ponies, in which the vile Christabel, unmoved by her father selling the ponies she has ignored for months, has a much more gradual and realistic conversion to decent human being-dom by staying with the Westlakes.

The other stuff I've been reading is whole worlds away from pony books. I'm not quite sure where P A Reid's The Latter Days at Colditz came from - I must have bought it but I can't remember where. Still, it turned up in my bookroom and I started to read it and after I'd got through the rather purple introductory chapter (from which I can't quote as I've mislaid the book since I finished it on Sunday) it was absolutely riveting. I am old enough to have vague memories of the Colditz series on BBC1, but am extremely glad I have now, as it were, read the book. I was amazed by the inmates' constant ingenuity, and impressed by the sheer scale of their thieving when even the tiniest opportunity arose. The Germans decided to instal a barbers in Colditz, and a van and a man duly arrived to do the work. The van was guarded by four sentries, but despite this numerous vital tools inside the van went missing, and it was only due to lack of time that the prisoners failed to remove a wheel.

Most impressive of all (and apologies if you all knew about this anyway - I tend to switch off when family talk moves to matters military and what follows just shows I ought to cultivate a more open mind) was the glider the British built within Colditz. To do this, they managed to wall off a section of the attic above the chapel, despite regular searches, roll calls and German sound detection devices, and the glider was built. It was never flown as the end of the war was in sight. Alas, the glider itself disappeared after the war, but tests on a replica built from the original drawings show it would have flown.

The book I'm reading now is another wartime one, though this time it's the First World War, and is Letters from a Lost Generation: First World War Letters of Vera Brittain and Four Friends. I bought this a couple of months ago, but knew I was going to find it emotionally hard going so had put it off. Vera Brittain's Testament of Youth I read when I was at university: I remember sitting in the university library (which has changed quite a bit since my day, if this is what it looks like now) utterly engrossed in it, and entirely ignoring my reading lists. The book had the most tremendous impact on me at the time: I was the same age as Vera Brittain was when the events of the book were happening; and I found it only too easy to think what it would have been like if the war was happening to me, and it was my friends who were away at the front and me who was writing to them.

Hard going it is indeed: Vera Brittain's fiancé, Roland Leighton, was killed in 1915. Her brother Edward was killed in 1918, and her two friends Victor Richardson and Geoffrey Thurlow in 1917. Roland Leighton wrote, before he went to war of war being "something, if often horrible, yet very ennobling and very beautiful" but at the end, his family and Vera have to sort through his equipment, returned by the Army:

"Everything was damp & worn and simply caked with mud. And I was glad that neither you nor Victor nor anyone else who may some day go to the front was there to see. If you had been you would have been overwhelmed by the horror of war without its glory. For though he had only worn the things when living, the smell of those clothes was the smell of graveyards & the Dead. The mud of France which covered them was not ordinary mud; it had not the usual clean pure smell of earth, but it was as though it were saturated with dead bodies - dead that had been dead a long, long time. All the sepulchres and catacombs of Rome could not make me realise mortaility and decay and corruption as vividly as did the smell of those clothes. I know now what he meant when he used to write of 'this refuse-heap of a country' or 'a trench that is nothing but a charnel-house.' And the wonder is, not that he temporally lost the extremest refinements of his personality as Mrs Leighton says he did, but that he ever kept any of it at all - let alone nearly the whole."

I'm not normally lost for words, but typing that out, the utter dreadfulness of what happened to these people had me simply staring ahead, completely unable to find words to comment on the enormity of the tragedy.

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

The Flat Pack Tractor

It's true. Here it is: the flatpack tractor. We spent the weekend at one of my sister-in-law's in Cornwall, and they take the Smallholder magazine. I always love reading about other peoples' chickens etc, so dived in, and found the Flatpack Tractor.

I just hope it has more comprehensible instructions than some flat packs I've dealt with in my life. Like most of the UK population, I've done my share of trawling round the hellhole that is Ikea (but gave up some years ago - I don't care how cheap it is. Being surrounded by other peoples' miserable, bawling kids who would rather be anywhere else other than there is vile, and I'm not going to do it anymore.)

Apparently there are 10 different construction tasks for the tractor, each of which should take an hour. I suppose this is the sort of thing you're not going to buy if you're the average hopeless goop who doesn't know how to use a screwdriver, but all the same, I'd love to know how they arrived at their 1 hour time. Presumably it's an average, which means some people must have spent much, much longer....

Rather sadly, there is a bit of me that would quite like to have a go at building one. A tractor would undeniably be handy about the place and stop us having to hunt around for contractors who can negotiate the evil corner between our stables and someone else's barn conversion (ok for horse-drawn and Fergies, but not for today's agricultural monsters.) My stepfather did briefly keep his useless Fergie in our yard (here is a picture of one) but unlike the one in the picture, which is doing a useful job of work his was a complete waste of space. It only worked first time once that I remember, during which time it managed to move some fence posts before it died. The amount of time and cosseting it took to get going was mammoth: the last time, before I stopped believing that it would ever be any use, my stepfather offered to help with moving the muck down to the garden. I had filled the trailer with muck, myself, by hand by the time the machine deigned to graunch into life, after which I went off it rather.

If by some miracle I ever acquire one of these flatpack things (on a scale of 1-10 I'd put it at about 1) I'll let you know how the construction goes.

Thursday, 9 August 2007

Go Fug Yourself

I do love Go Fug Yourself, oh I do. I'm not immune to the occasional (alright, frequent) fashion disaster myself. It took me years to finally admit to myself that I was never going to go back to my scrawny pre-pregnant self, and that it might be an idea to dress accordingly, but alarmingly I am not alone in being clueless.

I've just spent a morning sitting in one of Wellingborough's coffee bars - goodness, we now have a Costa Coffee - is this good or bad - but anyway; they have large plate glass windows, ideal for studying those walking by. All that fat wobbling away over low waistbands, and those wide, low slung belts worn at the widest part of one's wide, low slung self, the tight T-shirts clinging to every roll ...... and white boots.

The cheering thing about Go Fug Yourself is seeing people who frankly should know better (and have the dosh to employ a stylist) getting it gloriously, and spectacularly wrong. Which I suppose does not say good things about my character: if I were more virtuous I would feel sorry for them. But I don't. I just enjoy it.

A Puzzling Unknown Book

Does anyone have any idea what this book is? My correspondent says it isn't a Jill book. This is what she can remember:

This book is written in the first person: and opens with the girl almost ready to give up riding after a bad lesson. She and her friend are riding along on their bikes discussing the lesson. Once she's home, she finds a letter from her aunt inviting her and her friend to come and look after the aunt's riding school. The two girls go and run a very successful camp for the riding school pupils. The book ends with the girls being invited to come and run the riding school in their school holidays.

The person who asked thought the book was the first in a series.

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

The Prodigal Hen

We thought on Saturday that the fox had finally succeeded in getting one of the hens. Only three were there at putting in time, and a search only turned up ginger feathers in the graveyard (appropriately). We searched; the dog searched - no hen. So, two nights went past, and we assumed Matilda was now fox food. Yesterday I went up at lunchtime to give them a handful of corn, and all four waddled towards me across the wreck that was once our sand school. Poor Matilda now has only one tail feather left and therefore a sadly naked bottom, but she seems fine otherwise.

We're really puzzled about where she has been. There is a very large bramble patch in the school, so we think she must have holed up under there until she felt better, at which point she emerged.

Saturday, 4 August 2007

Foot and Mouth

A mammoth three posts from me today, but have just heard that Foot and Mouth has broken out again. My heart goes out to the poor farmers: it's been such a terrible year for them so far with the floods and awful weather, and if this is coped with like last time, it must be the final nail in the coffin for many.

It seems that Defra are reacting quickly this time. I hope they introduce vaccination and have learned from last time's debacle.

During the last outbreak we were grazing sheep on our land: we were lucky enough not to have any outbreaks nearby but even thinking of that time brings back the smell of the pink powdered disinfectant we went through by the bucketload. Hope and pray things get no worse.

A Recommendation

This is from one of my email correspondents - I haven't read it myself, but am going to order a copy asap.

" I've just read an astonishing book by Rosalind Belben called "Our Horses in Egypt" ( Chatto & Windus £16.99 2007)

It charts two journeys - that of Griselda Romney a war widow and her formidably reticent Nanny and precocious daughter Amabel and that of Philomena a rather "marish" mare. Philomena was Griselda's mare and she was requisitioned for the army at the beginning of the 1st WW. Philomena's story is of incomprehension, loss of companions, battles, betrayal (by the British government who abandoned 22,000 loyal warhorses in Egypt at the end of the war to an often painfully neglected existence). Griselda, on hearing that Philomena may be alive, embarks on a journey to discover her and bring her home.

Talk about pony books that make you weep - this is an adult novel you definitely can't read in public!

There is a lot about the way the horses were used and cared for . Not to mention horrible veterinary practices.

It is written in quite an idiosyncratic prose style but well worth persevering with and ultimately very clever because it unsoppily conveys the "feelings" of horses that can't talk but can communicate and people who can talk but can't always communicate.

It is clearly inspired by the work of Dorothy Brooke in rescuing old war horses in the 1930s, giving them a short but happy retirement before putting them down. The Brooke animal hospital which grew out of her work is still going strong and now has a a robust educative role as well in helping poor people in developing countries learn to care for their horses and donkeys.

A very unusual and wonderful book; it doesn't have a happy ending but does have a satisfactory one."

The Noel and Henry books

I'm doing a bit of a re-read myself, but I'd love to know why you like the Noel and Henry series, if indeed you do. And if you don't, what is it you don't like?

Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Ballet Girls

In one of the Jills, though I can't remember which one, she says that if she has any children, she's sure they'll like sordid things like Alsatians or ballet. Or at least I think she does. The moment I read that as a child, it was as if a bell pinged and I saw my future, and sure enough, my daughter is a ballet girl.

She's read the Sheltie books, but she's a grown up girl of 11 now, and has left Sheltie well behind. Alas she hasn't replaced them with any of my lovely pony books; not one. I've made subtle, and not so subtle, efforts to interest her in Jill but it hasn't worked.


Thursday, 26 July 2007


Not really terribly pony related this post; though I am having a brief break from proof reading Six Ponies. I've had a few manic days recently as I've been organising a drama course, of which the first day has finally happened. So far it's going well, though I am absolutely shattered. Why though do I have such broken nights beforehand, suddenly waking up and adding something to my vast list of things to do? I wish there was a way of training my brain to think of these things at a sensible hour, but it seems to prefer to do it at unsocial hours when I'd really much rather be asleep.

The children are doing really well, and we've nearly got to the end: just frantic rehearsals tomorrow before the performance for parents. Hopefully by then I'll have recovered some voice - having been singing what seems like every part apart from the main one to teach them to children who aren't used to learning parts at speed my voice is in need of rest. As indeed is the rest of me so I shall return to slowly reading every word of the last chapter of Six Ponies!

Monday, 23 July 2007

Caroline Akrill

At last, after weeks of getting submerged by a myriad of other things, I have finished my Caroline Akrill article: it's here.

Friday, 20 July 2007

Which pony books make you cry?

I can cry at pretty much anything (I was never good, but became far, far worse once I had the children.) My family are now very used to my welling up at emotional moments in films, and they all turn round expectantly at particularly mushy moments, whilst I gulp and try (and usually fail) to give them the satisfaction of seeing me cry. Again. When I read Nancy Mitford's Love in a Cold Climate, I so sympathised with Linda, who is endlessly made to cry by being taunted about the match by her tougher siblings:
- 'A little, houseless match, it has no roof, no thatch,
It lies alone, it makes no moan, that little, houseless match.'
My absolute prime weepy moment isn't actually a pony book at all: it's E Nesbitt's The Railway Children. Even typing it is enough. It's the "Daddy, my Daddy," bit at the end.

But pony books do their bit too to add to the dampness. I have great difficulty reading Black Beauty when he meets Ginger again, and then the cart with Ginger's body in it goes past: "The head hung out of the cart tail..." - I shall spare you the rest of the quotation.

John Steinbeck's The Red Pony I am completely incapable of reading in a single sitting.

Pamela MacGregor Morris's Lucky Purchase has me in floods, as does Veronica Westlake's Ten Pound Pony: "They stood and stared at each other for a long time. We stared too, and I think our mouths must have been open. It seemed as if something had broken somewhere and time was standing still..."

Thursday, 19 July 2007

Wealth in pony books - again

I've had a very interesting email on pony books, heroines and wealth, and I'm going to quote from it directly - it was in response to my earlier post about a poor but nasty pony book heroine:
... an impoverished pony-owner being resentful and bitter and never reforming is the obnoxious Charlie Dewhurst in Three Ponies and Shannan. This seems to me to be the exact opposite of the classic pony book. Charlie Dewhurst should be the heroine; she has a lot in common with other pony book heroines. Like Misty in Jackie won a Pony, Jingle used to pull a cart before taking up a career as a riding pony. Charlie is the daughter of a country parson, and they are always poor, although the families are generally happy (as in A Stable for Jill and any number of Lorna Hill novels). In a traditional pony book, the fifteen pound Jingle would triumph over the three hundred pound Serenade. Although Christina does not win the jumping she does prove herself to be as good as any poor groomless child as she wins The Best Turned Out Pony Class. Charlie never reforms, but perhaps Christina is allowed to be the heroine because she is humble and resents her father's wealth? In a pony book, it seems a character is allowed to be wealthy, provided they do not enjoy it and instead treat it as something shameful.
I had thought when making the original post about Christina, but had not thought as far as Charlie, who is the complete opposite of the same author's Augusta, heroine of I Wanted a Pony, the book written immediately before Three Ponies and Shannan. Augusta is poor, has vile, rich cousins, who, with their expensive ponies, she defeats on her cheap Daybreak. It's interesting that DPT turned the convention on its head with her next book.

I wondered as I was writing that last sentence just how much of a convention had emerged by the point DPT was writing. Of course, her mother, Joanna Cannan, had Jean, newly poor with wealthy, though not wholly unsympathetic, cousins, and her heroes in We Met Our Cousins soon realise the error of their fussy ways born of the rigidly correct upbringing of a wealthy London child. MM Oliver's Sea Ponies is concerned with rescuing the ramshackle farm from a dastardly landlord, and of course Black Beauty has its own examples of the misery caused by the exercise of fashionable money without sympathy, so I suppose it's true to say that the idea of wealth untempered by understanding was alive and well by the 1940s.

I'm not sure, though, about wealth being only acceptable if it's treated as something shameful. Christina is indeed embarrassed about her wealth and how easy it makes things for her. The Esmonds in Plenty of Ponies aren't ashamed of their money, but do see that although money has made their lives easier, it hasn't had much of an effect on their characters. The Holbrooks (although adults Major and Mrs appear in the Noel and Henry series) I think are noblesse oblige personified: they are obviously extremely well off, but not concerned with status; they want to help people, but not in an obtrusive or smothering way. Captain Cholly-Sawcutt in Jill is out of the same mould.

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

The Garden Visit

I was let out from my office yesterday and went on a garden visit to Docwras Manor: a lovely garden: not immaculate enough to be depressing, but with enough interesting plants to make it a garden where you didn't quite know where to look first. I went with a local flower arranging club - I cannot arrange flowers to save my life, bunging a few things in a vase and hoping being more my style, but I have friends who are brilliant at this arcane art, and they invited me along.

So, the Flower Club outing, you would have thought, would have been a staid thing, filled with the middle aged. Filled with the middle aged it was. We went in a coach (having always been sniffy about coaches, I have now come to love them - so lovely not being the parental taxi service and able to see what passes) and were told firmly by our leader to be back at 9.15. Well, 9.15 came and went, and several of our number were not there. They carried on not being there.

They must be still in the garden, we thought, too entranced by the plants to leave. They weren't. So, the coach driver started up and drove a couple of hundred yards down the road and stopped outside the pub. She hooted the horn, and out came our lost sheep. I did wonder whether they'd set foot inside the garden at all...

Sunday, 15 July 2007

More pony book thoughts

I do agree with the comments on my last post: if the characters, dialogue and plot are good enough, then period trappings shouldn't matter.

I wonder if the problem is rather more one of perception: Susanna Forrest says "If publishers are prepared to take a gamble and let pony books escape from the "posh gel" stereotype...", and I wonder if this is it. Ponies are seen as something beyond the reach of most people and if you stock a pony book you are in some way promoting that difference. That might be why it's the Heartland and the baby pony fantasies which are the ones stocked. Heartland is set in the USA, and therefore has the exoticism of abroad (albeit an abroad we're very familiar with) and you can excuse a lot of PC sins by combining them with fantasy - like Harry Potter and the boarding school.

Maybe that's why the Jordan books are so pink and sparkly - it's the publishers' way of saying "This isn't real life: it's just like Barbie - make believe."

I think this is another view that does children a disservice. Children don't generally think "Oh how ground down and miserable I feel because they go to boarding school and I don't." I was state-school educated and when I read the St Clare's stories I loved them and didn't think for a moment how dreadful it was that they had a completely different lifestyle to mine. (When my parents suggested I do a scholarship exam for a local public school I resisted so strenuously they gave in.) Children tend to read things for other reasons than to compare lifestyles, because generally other things are important to them, like good triumphing, the baddie being confounded or redeemed and so on.

I don't think the modern pony book has to include all sorts of today's issues: it needs to be recognisable , yes, but not necessarily be chock full of issues. Gillian Baxter's Bargain Horses was I think an excellent example of the right way to go, and yes, K M Peyton's Blind Beauty is a corker. When I read it, it was one of those books that I was so absorbed by that meals went uncooked... But it's good not because of its background, but because the author makes you care what happens.

Saturday, 14 July 2007

The Daily Telegraph Does Ponies

Susanna Forrest has written an article for today's Daily Telegraph on pony books: it's here. Aside from the fact I am quoted (along with Caroline Akrill and Vanessa from Fidra), it's a good article, with whose conclusions I do of course agree! As I am a complete anorak, I was particularly interested to read about the 18th century book by Arabella Argus: Memoirs of Dick, the little poney. Of course, had I only given it a second's thought, it was highly likely that there would have been horsey stories pre-Black Beauty. I'm now all excited by the thought of a whole set of early books I knew nothing about, but will have to try very hard not to do anything about it until I have got a bit further down the to-do pile - including the Caroline Akrill article, which I have very nearly finished, I promise.

Friday, 13 July 2007


Here is the illustration. In some ways I quite like it - it's lively and has rather more character to it than the books, but the ponies look rather more like elks (and if I'm right, the one standing at the open door is supposed to be an Arabian), and it's the inaccuracy of it that gets me.

I'm not usually a stickler for health and safety - my daughter often rode bareback, and you don't find that happening in riding schools these days - but in a situation like this where you have a lot of children, and loose ponies, and buckets and brooms..... I can see it being published in the Pony Club Annual entitled "What is wrong with this picture?" And if I was Vicki, owner of the riding school where this is set, I'd be scared witless of being sued when the inevitable happened.

There are whole reams I could write, but I can feel myself coming over all moralistic, so I think I'll go on a nice harmless visit to the Bank to pay in the week's takings!

Thursday, 12 July 2007

The latest thing in Pony Books

I've just been sent a set of Katie Price's (aka Jordan) journey into children's books: they're called Katie Price's Perfect Ponies, and well, they're pink. They are aimed completely shamelessly at girls: the covers are bright Barbie pink with silvery trimmings and a sub-Bratz character on the front.

Katie Price I know does have horses of her own, and she knows her stuff. Random House, the publishers, have a Perfect Ponies website, and the pony care tips are accurate and sensible. The stories themselves are written competently enough (as always with these celebrity books, I do wonder who did the actual writing) but without any sort of heart - nothing to really engage the emotions, or attract you to the characters. Interestingly, the most popular character at the moment on the website is Cara - who is a nervy biscuit who doesn't like going fast or jumping, and the only one who is memorable for anything other than the way she looks. Even so, Cara's big blue eyes crop up quite often, and what with Jess twirling her thick brown hair, and Darcy's plait being so long she can sit on it....

The only thing that emerges from the sludge is the insistence that one can be glam and still horsey. And isn't there enough stress on girls to look good already? Neat and workmanlike was how I was supposed to look when I was a horsey girl; at least when I was with the ponies I was well away from my parents' insistence that I "make the best of myself", and school's hawkeye inspection of you to see if you were up to getting a Deportment Girdle (No). In these books, Vicki, the owner of the riding stables "smiled, revealing her perfect white teeth. With her slim figure, thick dark hair, tanned skin and stunning silver-grey eyes, their teacher was living proof that you could be glam and still be a brilliant horsewoman." [Little Treasures] And of course you can, but not when you're 8.

The illustrations don't help. Dynamo Design, who were responsible, have gone all out for cuteness. They have sub Bratz heroines, ponies from the dumpy Plasticene school of modelling and a complete disregard for accuracy. The riders' toes are all pointing firmly downwards, the saddles are utterly unlike any saddle I've ever seen; there are ponies being groomed loose, and standing there cheerfully in their stables with wide open doors. As of course they do.

There are four titles in the series at the moment: presumably more are planned. Books for young readers don't have to be like this: there are some fantastic American titles - Jessie Haas' Runaway Radish - funny and instantly recognisable, and K M Peyton's Scruffy Pony - with the angst of wondering if the heroine will actually get her act together and rescue the pony who is so in need of it.