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.