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?