Friday, 17 December 2010

The nasty side of life

I tend to think of the 1920s as a generation rather tougher than our own, and less inclined to edit out the nasty side of life for our children.  It wasn't necessarily so, however:  author and illustrator Allen Seaby wrote several pony stories in the 1920s about British native ponies.  According to the foreword to his Dinah the Dartmoor, the first edition dustjacket of his Skewbald the New Forest Pony, published in 1923 was objected to because it showed a picture of two ponies fighting.  Seaby had to produce the version seen on very many reprints since, which was considered "less inciting to evil."

I still haven't seen a first edition dustjacket, but I now have a first edition.  Here it is.  I assume that, like later reprints, the illustration on the boards mirrored the one on the dustjacket.

This is the reprint:

- a sweetly domestic and maternal scene.  None of those nasty fighting males.

Monday, 13 December 2010


We had our Nine Lessons and Carols Service yesterday. MIGHTILY relieved we had an influx of new sopranos and I was able to scuttle off to be an alto again.

Despite many layers, church still perishing. Have suggested next year we bring a duvet to keep about our knees.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Pony Book News: Hazel M Peel

Great news if, like me, you have managed to lose your childhood copy of Jago:  it will be back in print in March next year, and available from GIETE, along with Hazel's other Australian wild horse story, Fury.  A particularly gorgeous first edition of Jago was one of the very first pony books I sold in my bookselling career, and of course I've never seen another.  If I did, I think it would be a case of having to breathe smoothly and deeply and not scream.  Or leap about.  Always assuming I could afford it, of course.

I've done a new page on my website gathering together news on what's coming up in the pony book world, but will still continue to post stuff on my blog.  If you have any news of new books, please let me know!

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Christmas Quiz

If Christmas all becomes too much, why not retreat to your favourite pony book, with the excuse that you are doing research for my latest quiz, on which you might win a £50 book token to spend on pony books?  The closing date is 3rd January.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Yet more frost

I have no idea what the temperature was first thing when dog and I pounded round the fields in the dark, but earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone.  Still are, but goodness, it's beautiful.

This morning

and this afternoon

Monday, 6 December 2010


Although we don't have the snow other parts of the UK do, we have some pretty spectacular frost.   Until I came to let the junior hens out of their house this morning, I hadn't spotted the cobwebs festooning it.  The senior hens live in the stable, as they were so violent when the juniors came on the scene they had to be separated.  All is now reasonably harmonious, but the hens have maintained their separate sleeping arrangements.

Junior hen Echo was less than impressed with the snow, but seems positively perky about the frost.

There was the most amazing damask pattern on the concrete slabs outside the stable - a week or so ago I'd washed it down, which had left a thin veil of mud, which has turned into what could be some splendid fabric design.

It's all really rather beautiful.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Well, that's cheering

Cataloguing away busily, I checked the price on one of my books.  Up came something else I don't actually have in stock at the moment:  Riding with Reka, by Heather, now safely out of copyright, and therefore grist to the mill of the Print on Demand merchants.  You are asked to cough up a minimum of £20 for this title on Abe, and one seller, whose honesty I suppose is admirable, says in their description:

This book may have imperfections such as missing or blurred pages, poor pictures, errant marks, etc. that were either part of the original artifact, or were introduced by the scanning process

but they're still going to sell it, imperfections and all.   Obviously no one at any part of the process cares enough to check what's produced.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

White horses....

Thanks Charlotte for sending me this (I know I've posted something similar before, but the video's different for this one.  And I just like it anyway.)

Sunday, 28 November 2010

It's cold...

though I do realise we are as nothing compared with Northumberland, but we were still excited, in an odd sort of way, to see frost pictures on the inside of the landing window.  At least our nice thick curtains, which I made in the early 1980s, and are now on their I think fifth set of windows, are doing their job.

The cold also means we have masses of fieldfares and redwings in the garden, plundering the yew berries AT LAST - am hugely relieved to see this, as the sooner they're gone, the sooner I will be able to stop supervising the dog every time she goes out into the garden, as she is partial to yew berries.  Although the berries themselves aren't poisonous, the tree always seems to shed its leaves at the same time, and they simply go down the same way, as far as the dog's concerned.  After a mercy dash to the vets for a stomach wash out when we first got her, we've been a tad wary ever since.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Jill rides again!

Many thanks to Vanessa of Fidra for sending me this utterly gorgeous new copy of A Stable for Jill.  I love the look of this one.  I liked their edition of Jill's Gymkhana, and if anything, like this one even more.  Fidra have done really well with their cover pictures.  Better still, of course, is the fact that this edition includes the full original text (though to be fair, there weren't huge cuts in the Knight paperback) AND the Caney illustrations, and they were cut from the Knight paperbacks, to be replaced by Bonar Dunlop's piebald Black Boy.

The book isn't yet available from the usual suspects, but it is available from Fidra's website, and should be available very soon if you want to order it from Book Depository etc.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Dog not that bright?

I've never been more grateful that we have a labrador who though lacking in some respects, and who is full of low criminal cunning, was at the front of the queue when God handed out labrador brains.

Read on....

Thanks to Susanna, who saw this first.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Bit of a roundup

A few posts I've enjoyed recently:

Ponybookchronicles on Saki:  who, as she says, doesn't really do horses, though plenty of other animals.

Christina Wilsdon encounters the fantastic side of life out on a walk.

Bagot Books on Cornish maps

I love this picture of bloodhounds at work.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Frustration is

packing up a parcel of 15 books with great thoroughness and a lot of parcel tape, only to discover one you have missed.

New for November

Fidra are republishing A Stable for Jill, by Ruby Ferguson.  Their version is the first to have the full original text and illustrations since the 1960s, and it follows their very successful printing of Jill's Gymkhana.  Stable will be out later this month, £7.99.

Hazel Peel has written Words and Wanderings:  an Author's Adventures at Home and Abroad, written under the name Wallis Peel, and published by Woodfield Publishing Ltd at £9.95.  If you want to find out what makes Hazel tick, here's your chance.

Christina Wilsdon, author of one of my favourite blogs, Piccalilli Pie, has written lots of books on animals, and has just ventured into the equine world with For Horse-Crazy Girls Onlymeant for people on both sides of the Atlantic.  Ignore the pinkitude, as it's a fine read, dripping with interesting facts and stuff to do,

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

My weekend task

One of my talents (well, perhaps not a talent, more a skill in that it's something I've had to learn from the way life has gone) is fitting in bookshelves to places you might not have thought a bookshelf would go.  We've had lurking in the wreck-that-is-the-cowbyre, in the bit that's just about roofed, a couple of bookcases, while we waited for inspiration to strike about where we could put them.  Having evicted a couple of boxes full of stuff, and a load of pictures which should be hanging on the landing walls, and might well be again if we ever get round to finishing painting the landing, a task which has been ongoing for about 2 years, there was just enough space for this:

which is now my work in progress bookshelf, for review copies, stuff waiting to go on the website and stuff I am plundering for the blog.

We have another, larger, bookcase still waiting to come in.  After we've returned a coffee table to my sister (not sure why we still have it), moved my grandfather's old tool box into the space vacated by the table, having moved all the books from its top, as it is currently doing duty as a store for my (very extensive) collection of pony annuals and biographies of equine illustrators, there will, we think, be space.  The plan is that the pony annuals will move there.   It says something for the state piles of books often reach in our house that my OH did not realise there actually was a box underneath the piles of annuals until I broke the glad news that for once, there were fewer books than he thought.

Friday, 5 November 2010


A bit late, but here is a quick gallop round the family holiday.  We went to Northumberland.  I normally like to go where there is plenty of up - Scotland and Northumberland are ideal.  Other Southern parts I will not mention are not bleak enough.  I am lucky enough to have a family who humour me in this, and who like up too.  For some reason I can't fathom, I had a yen to walk along beaches, and so, because I have a family who humour me, and we traded off a trip to Edinburgh with the teenage members of the party, along beaches we walked.

Bamburgh, despite the idyllic looking scene below, was blowing a gale.  It was the dog's first experience of a beach walk, and she was deeply unimpressed.

Her ears were pinned against her head by the icy blasts, and she walked behind us the whole way, her human (and unfortunately inadequate) windbreak.

The sun didn't last.

My OH, who was left in charge of the dog while I pounded the Edinburgh streets with the girls, found Coldingham Sands, over the border in Scotland.  We left the girls behind the next day to "do their homework".  Coldingham is a wonderful rock pool beach, but unfortunately it is nearly impossible to explore rock pools when you have a labrador who is convinced the best way of helping you investigate a rock pool is to march through it, several times.  

To give the poor sea creatures some peace, we walked on to St Abb's Head.  We looked back to Coldingham, where a horse and rider had appeared:  they did one beautiful collected canter circle around the beach, and then left.

The dog would not even consider going in the sea at Bamburgh (and still didn't when we went back later in the week) but Coldingham was different.

I admit I can never predict what teenagers will and won't like (other than to be pretty certain that anything Mum likes is well and truly off the menu) but Lindisfarne went down really well.  The Abbey is having some consolidation done, but most of it is still accessible.  Every time I look at it, I am still amazed that something so ornate and solid simply ends.

Sparrows have become rare now - and that's something I never thought I'd write.  There were plenty around in Lindisfarne, who mobbed us for our lunch.

Exmoors are also pretty rare, and rather out of their native territory in Seahouses, which was where we found this one.  Presumably they are well suited to that dry seaside grass.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

When is a horse not a horse?

When it's a donkey.

A study in 2004 analysed the remains of five horses found in the house of the Casti Amanti in Pompeii, all of which were well preserved by the volcanic ash produced in the erruption of AD 79.  Analysis of the DNA showed four normal horses, and a highly unusual DNA in the fifth the researchers believed was of a breed of horse now extinct.

Susan Gurney, of the University of Cambridge,  has revisited the original research.  The fifth sample with the supposedly extinct DNA, contained, due to a laboratory error, the DNA of two animals:  a donkey and a Herculaneum horse.  In a slight alleviation of the orginal researchers' blushes, the donkey's DNA shows it is from the Somali strain, rather than the Nubian strain more common in Europe, showing that the Somali strain was present in Italy from at least Roman times.

Many thanks to Jonathan Badger for sending me this.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

To make a star on a horse

If your horse didn't come fully equipped with facial markings, this was not a problem for the 17th century horse (or at least, for the horse's owners.  Most of these methods were a problem for the horse).  A whole sheaf of recipes existed, the object of which was to provide a permanent star, not just a temporary bleach job.  Gervase Markham, in his Markham's Masterpiece, Containing all Knowledge Known to the Smith, (1615) gives several recipes you could visit upon your unfortunate horse if you wanted to create white hair:  whether on the forehead or anywhere else.

Generally, first find a mole (or moldy-warp).  The mole was an essential part in recipes from the lengthy to the concise.  The grease of a sodden moldy-warp was used in one recipe, or you could boil a moldy-warp in salt water or Lee (hopefully the moldy warp was already dead by this point) for 3 days and use that decoction, which would apparently "bring white hairs suddenly."  Why?  I haven't yet been able to find out.  Whether a mole's corpse was more caustic than any other small mammal I do not know.  If you were short of a moldy-warp, you could always use something that was far more common, the guts of a hen "clapping them hot as they come out of the Belly to the Horse's face, having in readiness some hollow round thing made for the purpose."  This sounded less violent than Markham's preferred recipe:

"Take a tile stone, and after you have burned it, beat it into a fine Powder:  Then take Lilly roots; Daisy roots; White Brier roots of each a like quantity, and having dried them, beat them also into a fine powder, and mix them with the first:  Then with the razor shave that part of your Horse where you would have your Star, and then with this powder rub it so vehemently that you scarce leave any skin on; then take a good quantity of Honeysuckle flowers, and a like quantity of honey, and the water wherein a Mole has been sodden, and then distill them into a Water, and with that Water wash the Sore place for the space of three days together, and keep the Wind from it, and you shall presently see the White Hairs to grow; for this Receipt hath been often very well approved."

All that vehement rubbing presumably meant the end result might be a bit imprecise:  a star you might get, but it might not be to the dimensions you wanted.  There were methods you could use if precision was your aim, which involved inserting a bodkin between the skin and the bone and forming a hollow. After you'd done this, a specially shaped piece of lead was inserted into the wound, the loose skin gathered together with thread and after 48 hours, when the skin was "mortified", the lead was removed and the skin pressed back to the forehead.  The hair would shortly afterwards turn white.  Markham preferred this method to another he describes which also used lead inserts, as it led to "foul sores", though he assured the reader it was nevertheless effective.

Two methods of inserting lead

The object of the many recipes (there are at least 12, depending on how you count the variations) seems either to burn or wound the skin so that the regrown hair comes in white.  Honey is a fairly common factor in dressings afterwards: as is now proven, honey is good on wounds, so I would hope that the poor afflicted animals would at least recover from their farrier's attentions.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

The Horse Infirmary, Coventry

An 18th century advertisement:

~ R E W's Unparalleled Diuretic Horse Balls prepared by no one in the Kingdon
but his Assign and Successor E J Palfrey ~

Answering every purpose where Physic is required [to be sold] by the Maker, E J Palfrey, Farrier, at the Horse Infirmary, Coventry, where DISEASES and ACCIDENTS incident to HORSES are judicious treated; Horses and Colts cut, Tails set, Ears Foxed or Cropped, Stars in the forehead made in the best and modern Manner &c &c.

The really terrifying thing about this advertisement (for which, to Rosemary Hall, many thanks) is that the Coventry Horse Infirmary might have been the best thing available.

It obviously served the needs of fashion as well as health: I can't think of any purpose cropping a horse's ears would serve other than fashion.  Foxing appears to be much the same thing as cropping:  Charles Augustus Goodrich's 1831 New Family Encyclopaedia, or Compendium of Universal Knowledge describes foxing thus:

"FOXING.  This consists of depriving a horse of a portion of his ears, for the purpose of improving his looks. An easy mode of performing the operation is to take a small paintbrush and with paint in contrast in colour to the horse, mark the ears of the shape and length required:  then place a switch on the horse's nose, at the same time holding up a fore foot; with a sharp knife cut the ears in the line made by the paint.  Wash the wound with salt and water once a day for a week, after which apply sweet oil until healed.  Those horses only which have small, thin, delicate heads, are improved by foxing."

Washing the wound afterwards, I would imagine, must have depended on whether the horse would let you anywhere near it after you'd shaved bits off its ears with no anaesthetic.

I have managed to track down an Elizabeth method (in fact, several) for making a star, but more about that tomorrow.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Historic Julips

I've just bought some Pony Magazines from the early 1950s. Julip weren't exactly a prolific advertiser (but neither were any of the other model horse companies: I've seen no ads from them at all, and am intrigued about that. You'd have thought that Pony readers were absolutely their target market. Why not target it?)

Here is Foxhunter and Lt-Col Llewellyn. I wonder if any examples of this still exist? This model, and the Arab below, both appear to have latex rather than mohair tails.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Win-a-Pony Competition

Pony Magazine ran a win a pony competition in its early years. The competition stretched over some months, with new elements to complete each month. Here is one of them - I thought it might be fun to see what we could spot now (and was also wondering if there were many things we would miss simply because things have changed: it's probably much less likely I'd have thought that we would know as a matter of course what happened with driving setups). I haven't yet dug up the answers, I have to admit.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Take.. half a pound of bunacre, and make a Cake thereof

To make a Horse follow his Master, and find him out and Challenge him amongst never so many people.

Take a pound of Oat-Meal, and put to it a quarter of a pound of Honey and half a pound of bunacre, and make a Cake thereof, and put it into your Bosom next to your naked Skin, then run or labour yourself till you Sweat, then rub all your Sweat upon your Cake, then keep him fasting a day and a night, and give it him to eat, and when he hath eaten it, turn him loose, and he shall not only follow you, but also hunt and seek you out when he hath lost you or doth miss you, and though you be environed with never so many, yet he will find you out and know you, and when he cometh to you spit into his Mouth, and anoint his Tongue with your Spittle, and thus doing he will never forsake you.

By "An Experienced Farrier," found in The Horseman's Week-End Book.

Anyone tried it? Though of course, you do need to know what Bunacre is, and I haven't had any luck finding out so far.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Autumn roses and other stuff

All of my roses are single and not repeat flowerers, so it is an amazing treat to find a few flowering in the garden now. It's been an odd year for some plants, and things like jasmine have only come into flower now, it having been too dry for them earlier in the year.

Jacques Cartier:

Blush Noisette:
Boule de Niege (though I have a sneaky feeling this might be a repeat flowerer). Looked it up. Yes , it is. Didn't do it last year though - I wonder why?

And to finish, something completely unrosy, which is growing on the stump of my late lamented plum tree:

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Black Beauty - the first edition

Many thanks to Susanna for sending me this link. It's possibly not a first edition: that was bound in red, blue or green, with the horse's head looking to the right. John Carter (More Binding Variants, Constable, 1938) thinks this is a variant of the first: whether it is or not, it's still a very early edition. A first edition will cost upwards (sometimes very well upwards of £3,000).

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Books you CAN read on the tube

If pony books are your thing, and you travel by public transport, you will occasionally (or perhaps often) meet the situation when you are deep in your latest re-read of Ruby Ferguson'sJill, and you want to take something with you to read on the train. Do you take Jill? Well, there's a sort of muted yes from me there. If I'm reading Jill, or a Pullein-Thompson, I'll take it. If, however, I'm reading one of the pinker, fluffier modern things (for research purposes, natch) I admit I feel a twinge. Do I want the world to know I read Katie Price's Perfect Ponies and its ilk? Which, now I think about it, is faintly ridiculous, because I've reviewed them on theworldwide web, for goodness sake. It's perfectly obvious I do read them.

All this is wavering off the point more than somewhat, as what I am supposed to be doing in this post is letting you know about the new section on my horse and pony book website. It features authors of books for adults! Dick Francis! Josephine Tey! Ainslie Sheridan! Who? you might well ask - I've been amazed to discover in my researches for this bit of the site just how very many books there are with an equine background. Besides the obvious like, well, Dick Francis, about whom you might well have gathered by now I have a bit of a thing, there is a whole slew of racing-themed detective literature, and even the odd book in which racing manages to cast off the mantle of detection and grab romance instead.

So, if you want to read a book you can read on the tube without feeling embarrassed (though frankly, looking at some of them there are a few I'd quibble about), take a look here.

Review: Sarah Clements - Rosie's Unicorn

Sarah Clements: Rosie's Unicorn
Olympia Publishing, £5.99

Sarah Clement's website

Thanks to Sarah Clements for sending me a copy of this book.

Sarah Clements runs the Cam Valley pony rescue centre near Paulton, which specialises in rescuing and rehabilitating British native ponies. You can read plenty more about the centre's work on their website, which includes lots of detail on the ponies and their histories. If you'd like to support the rescue, there is a facility to donate via the website.

If you want to support the rescue, buying this book isn't the best way to do it. I am possibly one of the worst people to have been asked to review this book as I have a bit of a thing about punctuation. I want my children to learn to write properly. If children read something that's been professionally published, they assume it's right. In this book, unfortunately, it is not. The author has not been well served by Olympia Publishing's copy editors, who did a very poor job indeed. The errors of punctuation are legion. Here's a sample:

"The corner board had been loose for as long as she could remember, if you pulled it up there was a little secret hidden compartment. This is where I can hide the box, thought Rosie to herself, placing it carefully down and then lowering the plank back into place."

Comma splicing is what's going on here. Sentences which can stand on their own are joined by a comma. Yes, it's a common mistake (shatteringly and alarmingly common) but it's wrong, wrong, wrong. It makes the text read jerkily, rather than flow, which last I suspect was the author's intention, and it happens all the way through the book. (Another minor point: for a reason I can't fathom, thought processes are never, as you'll have spotted in the example above, in quotation marks.)

I don't normally sound off about the importance of correct punctuation and grammar. Some fine writers have needed the services of a team of copy editors before their writing is fit to be published. Not everyone is as fortunate as me, who had a solid grounding in punctuation and grammar at her very old fashioned State Junior School in the 1970s. Children nowadays are fighting a loosing battle with teachers who do not know that what they themselves write is wrong.

Maybe someone who wasn't brought up having the rights and wrongs of punctuation bashed into them can read this book and enjoy it, but it was completely beyond me. I did make a huge effort to look past the multitude of errors and the awkward writing to try and get something out of the story, but I failed there too.

The book opens with the god Unus creating the world: everything is beautiful and new, and Unus creates a beautiful new being as a last gift:

"This is the beast of perfection, the essence of my soul, my endless love for you all...."

You know what's coming, don't you? Yes, it's a unicorn. And like just about every other fictional unicorn shimmering through 21st century children's books, it is perfect, bright and beautiful. It is not that I mind unicorns: to prove this, I am going to review Alan Garner's Elidor just to show I have no anti-unicorn prejudice. It's just that all that perfection is a little wearing to read.

Everything very soon goes wrong in Unus' new world, because of Man and his Greed. However, the unicorn can return to earth again through a child without greed and selfishness, and that's where Rosie comes in. The heroine, Rosie-May is a perfect little girl. She almost never does anything wrong, and even when she lies for the sake of the unicron she feels terribly, terribly bad about it. I realise that this might have a certain charm if you like your child characters full of sweetness and light: Rosie certainly is, but I just can't swallow all that Victorian child-as-innocent stuff, having seen Original Sin alive and well in my own two.

Rosie is pony mad but doesn't have one of her own, so she helps Mr and Mrs Trugg with their horses. Rosie's best friend Milly (Mils) is being bullied by fellow pupils Emma and Flick. Mr and Mrs Trugg's farm is threatened by Digby Fox, who wants the farmland for housing. Through the influence of Rosie, and the unicorn Image, everything works out, as you would imagine it would.

The book is not well written; the author has little ear for dialogue or characterisation and the plot is predictable. I do, however, like the cover very much, which is probably cold comfort.