Friday, 25 September 2009

Charlotte Hough

Charlotte Hough didn't illustrate many pony books, but she did do one cover of which I'm particularly fond: Margaret Stanley Wrench's The Rival Riding Schools. I love the impression you get of vivid life you get: I feel that I'm looking in on an intense bit of childhood secrecy, and I like the shaggy pony, standing there patiently while the humans get on with being odd.

When I began to research Charlotte Hough, I turned up more than I'd bargained for. Until I read The Times’ Obituary, I had no idea that Charlotte Hough was the mother of the author Deborah Moggach, or that she had been involved in a celebrated case when she was accused of murder.

Helen Charlotte Hough (pronounced How) was born in Hampshire on May 24, 1924, and died on December 31, 2008. Her father, a doctor, was 50 when she was born. Her mother was much younger, and she had a rather dislocated childhood, as her father refused to contribute to her upbringing. She was educated at Frensham Heights, a progressive school, and then went into the WRNS. She married Richard Hough, who was in the RAF, and had five children, one of whom was stillborn.

Neither Charlotte nor her husband had any professional qualifications, so early married life was a battle. As Charlotte could draw, she took her drawings round publishers, and was taken on to illustrate children’s books. The earliest book I have found which she illustrated was M E Atkinson’s House on the Moor, published in 1948. The first true pony book she illustrated was Christine Pullein-Thompson’s I Carried the Horn.

She illustrated two more titles for Christine Pullein-Thompson: Goodbye to Hounds and Riders from Afar., and also one of my favourite of Josephine Pullein-Thompson’s titles, Prince Among Ponies.

Her pony book illustration spanned just three years, ending with Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty in 1954: a rite of passage which many pony book illustrators undertook. (I haven’t included her own Morton’s Pony here, as I’m not certain whether or not it counts as a pony book, not yet having seen a copy.) I think her drawings are lively, and often fun, but they never seem to have engendered the same affection that other equine illustrators have.

After 1954, she illustrated a few more children’s books, but none of them were pony books: perhaps her heart was not in it, as she concentrated in this later period on her own books. These were mostly published by Faber and Faber, and as far as I know, most were aimed at younger children, though she wrote a detective story for adults in 1980, The Bassington Murder.
The murder in which she was involved has sad resonances now, when euthanasia is much in the news: what we might perhaps now regard as an act of mercy was regarded very differently by the law then.

After her marriage ended in divorce, Charlotte Hough had several voluntary jobs before she became a Samaritan in the early 1980s. She was asked to visit four elderly women regularly, and this she did, becoming very close to them. One of them, Annetta Harding, had crippling arthritis and was nearly blind. She had told Charlotte Hough that she intended to take her own life when the pain became too much. That day came, and Charlotte agreed to stay with her until the end. Annetta Harding’s house was locked at 10.00 pm, and so, to avoid Charlotte becoming implicated in her death, Annetta Harding wanted her to leave before then. When 10.00 pm came, Annetta Harding was in a coma, but not yet dead, so Charlotte used one of the plastic bags which Annetta Harding had put by in case she needded them to finish the process, to smother her.

She confided in a fellow Samaritan what she had done, and the Samaritan told the police. Charlotte Hough was arrested, tried, and sentenced to 9 months for attempted murder, of which she served 6. Her time in prison was not easy: the English class system did not serve her well, but she eventually blended into the background, and tended the prison gardens. Her time in prison gave her much sympathy for women who did not emerge, as she did, to a family and many supporters, and she was a member of PEN, (of which Josephine Pullein Thompson was President).
For more details of her bibliography, see my page here.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

It wasn't like this when I was at school

Took daughter and friend out for a quick pizza after school. Sitting there looking at them, both 13 years old, with full make up on, I asked them if there was much of a queue for the loos to re-touch the paint. Oh yes, they said. There is, apparently, an informal system, where whole years go in at a time. Year 11, queens of the school as the sixth form presumably make up elsewhere, get first dibs at 12.15. Daughter, who is year 9 (12.30 is their appointed time at the mirrors) said she was in there leaning on the wall waiting for a friend, as the year 11s were there, leaning at the mirrors, re-touching, when a year 9 came in, and wiggled her way through to the mirrors to start wielding the mascara. As one, the year 11s stopped talking, and turned and looked at the year 9, who scuttled off. Once she'd gone, conversation, and re-touching, restarted.

Good grief. I can remember passing an older girl on the stairs in my time at school, pinned in to the corner by Miss Hansford the Dragon Art Mistress, being torn off a strip for wearing eye shadow. Girls caught would be marched off to sick bay to scrub their faces. Innocent as the dawn, spots all aglow, we would face the school day. Not a trace of mascara, not a whiff of lipgloss.

Told the girls this, who announced as one that if they were not allowed to wear make up, they would leave and find another school. They NEEDED make up, they both announced firmly. Reflected on the irony of this, as there they sat, dewy skinned both (well, the occasional spot, but nothing too terrible), bright eyed and glossy, not a square inch unmade up, opposite me, no longer dewy skinned and galloping towards fifty, pretty much in the same unmade state as I was at school, though now it is my wrinkles that face the day, all unadorned.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Morning walk

It's months since I took the camera out on the dogwalk, having been tramping round, buried in my own thoughts. I'm amazed at how much I've missed - though even I can't remain oblivious to the ploughing and harrowing, now thankfully over. Do not at all like traipsing over miles of plough, trying to aim for where I think the footpath might be. The rest of the village has the same problem: for the first few yards there's a solid path, but then it disintegrates into vague, half trodden meanderings as we have no fixed point to aim at. Now, thankfully, the farmer has put back the path (amazing what a quick sweep with the tractor will do).

Another thing I managed not to miss was the sloes: I have some now lurking in the freezer, though goodness knows if my plans for them will actually happen. I have a tendency to mentally tick things off once they're in the freezer, meaning I have several boxes of very, very old fruit in there.

The hedges have been flailed, which always seems so brutal (and the best blackberry bushes were flailed, which was a blow) but the flailed elder stems still have an odd, spiky beauty.

I was amazed that I have managed to walk past all these flowers for weeks without noticing them. A few have sprung up after being mowed down in the harvest, but the scabious has obviously been going for some time. Roses always seem such a sign of summer, and here is this small last one, just flowering, while its older sisters are long since hips.

How I have managed to walk past this enormous asparagus, presumably seeded from the allotments, for month after month, I do not know. I've made careful note though of where it is for next year.

Yesterday I was in the room when Jonathan Meades was on the television, talking about the odd beauties of the Outer Hebrides, amongst which he included rust: which gallops all over the often-used building material, corrugated iron. Why on earth do they use it? said my OH. Tough and cheap, I said. I was struck by the thought of how you do get beauty in industrial decay, and here is some.

Monday, 14 September 2009


Which we actually visited weeks ago, but still..

The Eden Project: good, but not the staggering and awesome experience I thought it would be. They are excellent at crowd management, and have put a lot of thought into getting a large amount of people round without driving them insane, but I found the biodomes strangely disappointing. Interesting, certainly. Not entirely sure, thinking about it, exactly what I did expect.

I liked the sculptures, though this one is the stuff of nightmares:

Lanhydrock, where the fire alarm went off as we were heading for the attics. Went after daughter to get her to come back and get out, but as I had loud conversation with her up the stairs about the fact it was a fire alarm and that meant get out, people trudged on by, intent on continuing their tour. Were they acting with British reserve and pretending the fire alarm and I were not there? Or just in a world of their own? Or were they waiting for me to tell them to get out too?


In what dim planning brain was it thought that a few hundred metres away from this:

should be this dire example of bog standard 20th century dullness?

That's Tintagel for you.
We spent hours adoring the otters at the otter sanctuary. Populations have recovered so well there is no longer a breeding programme to repopulate the rivers.

St Mary Magdelene, Launceston has an exterior the like of which we've never seen before (and here is a better phot0.)

On the way home, we stopped in Ashburton, where there is the most glamorous teashop, where we had yet another cream tea. It's an antique shop too, so you can buy what you're sitting on. The cream tea was jolly good too: decent scones, which having sampled a lot of them over the preceding week, I can tell you are surprisingly rare.

Saturday, 5 September 2009


wear open toed sandals and purple nail varnish when you're doing the hens. They think your toes are blackberries.