Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Castle Ashby Gardens and Craft Fair

Castle Ashby is the home of Earl Compton.  The house isn't open, but the gardens are, and we have been there a lot over the years.  If you are ever within spitting distance of Northamptonshire, go.  It's open right the way through the year, not just for the Craft Fair I wrote about yesterday. The gardens are tremendous, and the garden buildings amazing.

The Castle Ashby orangery is as big as the average village hall.  I am always caught between awe at its beauty and relief that it is not me who has to do the maintenance.

The Castle Ashby mulberry:

This is a Victorian beehive.  It must have been quite a sight when it was in full working order, particularly as there are two; the other being opposite.

Ah, the Craft Fair.  Some of this was of the lovingly made at the kitchen table school, which isn't quite my style, but I did like the tiny little wooden piece, all of about 2" high, by wood turner Paul Coker, and the cushions by Oh-So-Georgie.   I like strong colours and definite patterns, so the current fashion for ditsy vintage florals leaves me cold.  Nicola Hawtrey's jewellery, which I managed with stunning intelligence not to photograph, is not in the least ditsy. 

Monday, 30 May 2011

Castle Ashby and El Caballo de España

Yesterday (the day that didn't rain) we went to see El Caballo de España at the Castle Ashby Craft Fair.

My only regret is that I really haven't sussed photographing movement so have very few photographs which are any good.  Such a shame, as the horses really merit much better.  

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Blogger down again....

Apologies for the lack of blogging over the last few days.  Blogger's been down again and I couldn't get into my account.....

On the website front, I've done some new authors.  Click here for the full list.  I particularly liked Ann Pilling's donkey book, which has rather more to it than the average picture book.

On the sales front, I've loaded more new stock up:  principally Collins Seagulls.  And a few paperbacks (including the excellent Can I Get There by Candlelight?), illustrated below.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Ephemera - Christine Pullein Thompson, The First Rosette

I've just bought this copy of Christine Pullein-Thompson's The First Rosette.  Its original owner had created this rather charming addition, as the book doesn't have its dustjacket.  The head and rosette motif is removable (it's been placed behind a removable plastic cover) but I thought I'd leave it as it was.

Redundant Skills

I have a new car, and OH and I were musing over the cars we have had.  The first car we bought together was a Morris Minor Traveller, which was a pale blue version of the one below (though that one does look as if it has been extended).  The Morris was full of character, and brilliant for edging out into 1990s London traffic as people thought "Ah, cute Morris," rather than "Pushy b****** BMW driver".  

It was, however, a mechanical disaster.  It spent weeks at a time in various specialist garages, and we spent hundreds on it.   Every time it went in for its MOT, we dreaded being rung up, told it had failed (it always had) and hearing what we came to think of as the W word - welding.  

As well as its shortcomings on build quality, it was absolutely evil to start.  Cars nowadays just start.  You turn the key and that is it.  When we got the Morris it had a starting handle in case nothing else worked.  The starting handle took considerable welly, certainly far more than I had.  Fortunately we managed to get some sort of modification (from memory, a choke).  After we got the choke, matters improved a little. Boy, was I good at starting that car.  I knew all about flooding engines, what to do if you had flooded the engine, and how to use just the right amount of choke to generate just the right engine note.  I got that car started in the depths of winter.  I could keep it going until it had warmed up enough to move off too - much harder than you might think.

Bearing in mind I never fully mastered the Morris' gear box, particularly its lack of synchromesh going into first gear, and, now I come to think of it, going from second to third even with syncromesh, I suppose it was just as well I could at least start it. Character or not, I was virtually speechless with relief when we got our next car, a BMW.

And with no car since have I ever had to exercise my mighty skill at starting the unstartable car.  I feel quite melancholy to think of this unused ability, but not enough to get another 1970s British built car.  Oh no.

Image:  www.free-images.org.uk 

Monday, 23 May 2011

The tact of judges

Captain Guy Lucas, who judged hunters in the first half of the 20th century, finished judging a class and left the ring.  He was accosted by a peeress, cross because her hunter had not been placed.  "You," she told Captain Lucas, "should be judging cows, not horses!"

"Yes ma'am," said Captain Lucas.  "And if I had you in front of me I should give you the first prize!"


Found in A Horseman Through Six Reigns - Horace Smith

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Elaine Walker - Horse

Elaine Walker - Horse
Reaktion Books Ltd  £9.99

Thank you to the author and publisher for sending me this copy to review.

I am treading new ground here reviewing non fiction.  I read a lot of non fiction, particularly social history, but have thus far kept my comments on what I've read for my nearest and dearest, so I'm grateful to Elaine Walker for giving the chance to get my teeth into something new; not that I'm about to savage this book, just chew it over in a pleasurable and ruminative sort of way.

A lot of what I review is children's literature, or books which are generally not going to take time to read.   Horse is a survey of the horse; how it influences humankind and how humankind influences it.  It is not a book that you're going to whizz through.  It's a book that repays a gentle pace, particularly if, like me, you are prone to getting excited about what you are reading and having to go off and investigate further.

It's quite hard to write this review without going off into an over-excited procession of did you knows?  I will however stick in one.  The first chapter discusses the evolution of the horse.  It might well be that this is presented in a different form now, but my picture of the change from Eohippus to Equus is of a neat little line going from left to right showing creatures of gradually increasing size.  This is not an accurate picture of how the horse developed.    Some forms were actually smaller than what they succeeded.  All those years I've had that little procession of prehistoric horse forms going from left to right in my brain, and all those years it's been wrong.

There are some extraordinary episodes in this book which illustrate the consuming connection between man and horse:  William Cavendish, Marquis of Newcastle, lived in exile in Antwerp after the Royalists were defeated at the Battle of Marston Moor during the English Civil War.  Life was not easy:  in order to eat, his wife had to pawn her jewellery.  None of this stopped Cavendish acquiring horses.  He bought "four Barbes, five Spanish horses, and many Dutch horses; all the most excellent Horses that could be."  I cannot help but feel the most intense sympathy for his wife, particularly as she was left behind when Cavendish returned to England, as security for his debts.  Did he take the horses with him, I wonder?  Did she have to try and keep them going as well as herself?  It is in the nature of this sort of survey that your questions aren't all going to be answered, but my goodness the author leaves you plenty of enthralling avenues to shoot off down.

One episode which is recounted in full is the history of the Appaloosa Horse and the Nez Perce.  These spotted horses probably developed from spotted horses imported into America by the Spanish Conquistadores in the sixteenth century.  The Nez Perce tribe took to breeding horses for their spots, and so the Appaloosa was born.  Although initially friendly to the white settlers, the Nez Perce were forced into successively smaller areas of land through successive treaties, and after a retaliation against cattle rustlers in 1877 led to an attack by the Army, the Nez Perce fled, having routed that Army attack.  With the entire tribe and all their livestock, they tried to reach Canada, over 1,300 miles away.  Alas, when they stopped, they had not, as they thought, crossed the Canadian border.  After a surprise attack by the Army, the Nez Perce surrendered.  All their horses were confiscated, and many slaughtered.  The Appaloosa became a symbol of resistance, and the Army were under orders to destroy any they came across.  

The Nez Perce were eventually allowed to keep a few horses on condition that they were bred to draft horses; the resulting offspring not therefore being of any use in war.  By the 1930s the Appaloosa was numbered in the hundreds.  An Oregon rancher, Claude Thompson, began a revival, and now the horse's future should be secure. Thus, Elaine Walker says, "humans were responsible for the rise, fall and recovery of the Appaloosa, reflecting the way in which horses are at the mercy of humans."

This is an intriguing and involving book.  If you are at all interested in the horse's relationship with humanity, read it.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Creative response

I was going to do a blethery introduction to this clip, but it doesn't need it.

Completely UK-centric post

Look away now if you cannot get Radio 4.  Or do not listen to The Archers. This post will mean nothing to you.

I missed yesterday's episode of The Archers (long running radio soap - everyday story of farming life, for non UK people who've read this far.)  WHY WHY WHY did David feel he had to tell Lizzie all?  Though thankfully he missed out the "Are you a man or a mouse?" bit.  Was gripping the keyboard moaning SHUTUPSHUTUPSHUTUP, but did he listen?  No.  Did he leave Lizzie and her family to carry on picking up the pieces of their lives?  No.  To salve his own conscience he spilled.

And how are they all going to react?  I predict:   Kenton – thinks David monumentally stupid for spilling all but sympathises and tries to broker peace; Shula - distraught but siding with Lizzie; Jill - measured distress for all but edging towards sympathising with Lizzie; Ruth – understands now why David so keen to help Lizzie, sees why he feels he had to tell her, lots of “Oh no”.   Quite possibly furious at first.

Lizzie did seem to cotton on remarkably quickly, bearing in mind this came completely out of the blue.   If it had been me, I think I would have been much more Eastenders about it all but then the sound of the picnic being flung into the long grass wouldn’t translate as well on radio as measured but quavery denunciation.  Roll on tonight.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Taking your pony on the train

The keen pony book reader will know many books where a pony gets from A to B on a train.  Rapide arrived at Jill's on a train in Jill Has Two Ponies, and Christabel Raffington's rescued Daybreak travels on a train in Josephine Pullein-Thompson's I Had Two Ponies.  Train travelling horses were in fact legion, but I'm not sure if there's still such a thing as a horse car.  From this story on BBC Wales, it would appear not.


I love my roses with a passion and every year I do a blog post about them.  I have a couple (well, three) new ones this year, and will get another one later this week.  The roses really mark the end of the point at which our garden is interesting.  I always mean to buy more interesting stuff for later in the year, but never do.

Here is Blanc Double de Coubert (I think - I can't find the label).

the White Rose of York:

Mme Jacques Cartier - it is her first year flowering properly.

Fantin Latour, which is having another spectacular year.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Lady Gaga

There are whole fields of equine weirdness Lady Gaga has not yet plumbed, but she's on the way.

The horse head fiddle

I should have read the email telling me about this with more care.  When I went to to the recommended page and read about the horse head fiddle in the local history collection at Moyses Hall, Suffolk, I thought at first it was called that because of a similarity in shape:  wrong.  It's called a horse head fiddle because it is made out of a horse's skull.  Apparently it sounds as bad as it looks.  Scroll down (right to the end) to see it in all its glory.  Alas the picture doesn't enlarge.

Many thanks to Rosemary Hall for telling me about this.

The horse head fiddle part two.

This is what I thought I was going to get in the initial horse head fiddle investigation.  The morin khuur is a traditional Mongolian instrument with two strings.   One string was made with hairs from a stallion's tail, and the other with hairs from a mare's.  The bow was strung with horse hair, and the sound box was wood.  I found a couple of legends on Wikipedia about the instrument's genesis:  both have the instrument being created out of the bones of equine tragedy.  In one a beloved winged horse is killed when a jealous woman cuts off the horse's wings so it crashes to the ground and dies.  The rider made a fiddle from the remains, and used the fiddle to mourn the horse.   Another legend has a wicked lord killing a boy's beloved white horse.  The horse's spirit instructs the boy to make an instrument from its bones and hair.

With its possible equine genesis, use by a people reliant on the horse and construction out of horse, I wondered if the sound of the instrument was in the least bit equine.  Not to my ear, at any rate. It sounds to my Western ear as if you play both strings at once.  When combined with Mongolian throat singing it is the most amazing sound.

Elderflower cordial

I'm not a terribly good advertisement for the eating seasonally school of thought; more particularly eating what we have in the garden etc.   I always mean to eat what's around in the garden but there's always something that slips past me.

When we moved here, the garden was infested with elder trees.  We've drastically cut down their number now.  As is ever the way with these things, we thought the multitude of elder trees we had on the fence line in the field would supply all elder needs, but then they all virtually as one decided to suffer.  Whether they were the same age and all shuffled off the mortal at the same time, or whether they all got some strange disease, or whether (top theory at the moment) the succession of icy winters we've had has not helped, I do not know.  

But I digress.  We weakly let an elder seedling have its wicked way next to the barn and it is now a socking great tree despite our periodic attempts to get it under control.  This year I decided I'd make elderflower sorbet.

I found a recipe on the internet (all my recipes for elderflower sorbet need gooseberries too and my gooseberries are weeks off being ready).  As I am a bit slow when it comes to grams and litres, I hadn't realised quite how much the recipe was going to make.  I also thought that the zest of 3 lemons wasn't going to be enough, so added the juice of the lemons as well.  I also added twice the number of elderflower heads the recipe said.

The result wasn't at all bad.  A touch oversweet for my taste, so I shall try making it again but with 5 lemons this time and even more elderflowers.  And half the quantity.  Daughter accused me of over-catering.  AGAIN.

Here's the recipe, with my adaptations:

1 litre water
700 g caster sugar (I mixed granulated and caster as the caster ran out)
zest of 3 lemons
juice of 3 lemons
16 elderflower heads.  Give the heads a good shake and a quick wash.  They are more buggy later in the year but you never know what's in there.

1.  Make a sugar syrup by gently heating the sugar and the water.  Stir the sugar until it is all dissolved.

2. Turn up the heat, and once the mixture is boiling, let it simmer for about 5 minutes.

3.  Remove from the heat, and add the lemon zest, lemon juice and elderflowers.

4.  Leave everything until it's cooled down, then strain into a container (I am assuming that like me you do not have an ice cream maker.  Have always fancied the idea and when got married the first time and was in need of a wedding list (at Peter Jones! Forgotten I did that) put on an ice cream maker but one did not appear.  I have to say I have survived without).  I am digressing again.  There is a lot of this mixture if you make the full amount, so if you have a small drawer freezer, as I do, you will have to decant the mixture into 2 bowls.

5.  Put the bowls into the freezer, and get them out again around 2 hours later and whisk furiously.  Do this another couple of times until the sorbet is frozen.

6.  The original recipe says to get the sorbet out 10 mins before you need it, but I didn't and no one broke an arm getting the stuff out.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Morning walk

Which actually happened on Friday 13th, but as Blogger was down it's had to wait until today (which is grey and drear.)

The pigs are now in a new field.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Red Kites

Thundering up and down the M40 yesterday, on my way to buy books I lost count of the number of Red Kites soaring along.

Image by Duncan Stuart

Monday, 9 May 2011

Something Totilas can't do?


Fellow book dealer Barbara Fisher at March House Books has just started a blog:  she has a lovely piece about finding a poem for a customer (you don't get that kind of service at Amazon), illustrated with some Margaret Tarrant drawings.  Margaret Tarrant isn't I must admit my first choice of illustrator, but I do wonder quite what fate awaits the child at the beginning of the post.  Innocent watery splashes up his lovely clean socks, a Dawn French-esque disappearance or something else entirely?

Susanna Forrest writes about hunting horses (something I have been thinking about lately as I read Elaine Walker's Horse, which mentions the disappearance of the horse from North America some centuries before they were re-introduced by the Spanish.  Were they eaten to extinction?)

Piccalilli Pie has a gorgeous post on the Bushtit - what we in the UK call by the technical term of LBB (Little Brown Bird).

Speaking of Roundup, for years I have resisted the siren call of the garden chemical, but now the forest of nettles and other weeds I cannot name but know only too well by their complete refusal to die and remarkable ability to sprout again from nothing that I can see have defeated me, and I have resorted to bunging glyphosate on the path into the vegetable garden.  And the dandelions in the gravel path.

Is this a slippery slope?  Any pro-nettle activists need not despair - we have an "official" nettle patch in the field, which is there for the butterflies.  Owing to a complete communication failure between me and the chap who tops the field, the nettles got topped last year but they do not seem to mind.  Just hope there will be some butterflies to use them.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Parental honesty

I heard this on Radio 4's News Quiz yesterday:

"Ballyderown Top Notch is a 10 year old gelding. He is a grade A registered  show jumper who was recently acquired by his current rider.  An extremely honest and experienced pony he will take any capable young rider to a very high level.  The pony is being sold reluctantly as the rider is an unappreciative spoiled brat."

Here's a link to the ad.  I hope the pony's now gone to a deserving owner, maybe one who's worked frantically at paper rounds, babysitting, and saving farms from fires in order to be able to afford him.

Weekend walk

Actually last weekend.  Still catching up.