Monday, 26 September 2011

Am I being completely unreasonable

to use my own version of the Royal Mail's certificate of posting until they have sorted out their punctuation? Reading this:

This form must be validated by Post Office Limited, please ensure that it is stamped at the time of posting, without this it will not be valid.

makes me just .... rage. Boil. Ferment. My inner pedant has risen up and she is not happy.

What is even more depressing is that this form is copyright 2010, so it's been around in this happy state for a while now.

Can hens do agility?

It would appear from this that yes, they can. If there is something in it for them, of course. I like the way Hester has trained her owner.  Hester advances quickly enough not to discourage her owner, but still slowly enough to allow time to dig in to worms along the way. Nicely done, Hester.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Tiddly om pom pom

Joan Lamburn's The Mushroom Pony is one of those truly bonkers stories. It's about a foal whose mother has eaten a magic mushroom (yes, really), and as a result the foal can fly. The book was published in the 1940s, so I guess that magic mushroom didn't have quite the connotation that it does now - or perhaps it did, to a select few, and Joan Lambourn was incredibly subversive.  It is impossible for me, at any rate, to read the book without having the alternative meanings hovering about, particularly when I read the dedication:

To Alyse... and Harry... Who know how Magic Mushrooms grow

Which makes me want to rush out and find them and ask what exactly their familiarity with mind altering substances was.

The book is about Pansy, a mare who eats a magic mushroom.  She then has a foal (Joan, whilst subversive, holds to 1940s views on the process of mating: it is simply not mentioned. Pansy has three foals, but there is no mention of any stallion. I did wonder if the magic mushroom was responsible, but it is not. P has two foals before she spots the MM.)  Pansy's next foal, Clippety Clop, has wings on his feet: rather sweet little wings, as drawn by Phyllis Ginger:

Pansy is sad as her foals keep being taken away from her, but Clippety Clop's wings are a big help in keeping him around.  Pansy of course can talk, and not only that, sing.  There is a lullaby quite early on in the book, complete with music.  I've never thought of horses as having any particular singing voice (though Alan Garner's unicorn Elidor does, and I've always thought of that as more a high sort of keening rather than a particular voice).  If they do, then Pansy was a soprano. Gosh, this piece is high.  I have had a couple of quick goes at singing it, which was not a thing for the faint hearted to listen to as I need time to warm up to get above an E these days.  It's a sweet tune, though in neither go so far have I been able to make a sensible fitting in of the words on the last line.

One last oddity: the book doesn't have a dustjacket, but it does have the front flap. Why? Why on earth would you keep just that bit?

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

New books for September

There’s a lot out this month, as publishers get ready for Christmas.  In particular, there’s a lot aimed at the picture book/really young reader market, but to start, here are a couple emphatically not for the infant reader.

Warrior: The Amazing Story of a Real War  - General Jack Seely
Racing Post is re-publishing this story of a real war horse, to coincide with the release of the film.  Brough Scott is the editor, and Peter O’Sullevan has written a foreword.  Some of the proceeds will go to Peter Sullevan’s charitable foundation.  £14.00, out on 23rd September.

Gamble - Felix Francis
The first solo effort by Felix Francis, who is continuing the Dick Francis brand. Michael Joseph, £18.99. In this one, our hero is no longer able to race because of an accident (sound familiar?) and is staggered when a friend is shot very, very early in the book. Which also sounds familiar: but Felix has a few books under his belt now, and revisiting the same basic plotlines didn’t do his father any harm.

Monica Edwards - Punchbowl Midnight
Latest in Girls Gone By’s reprints is Punchbowl Midnight, which can be a tricky title to track down. It’s one of the Punchbowl Farm series, in which Dion’s hopes to found his new Jersey herd with the calf Midnight look doomed once the calf escapes. She ends up running with the deer, and proves nearly as difficult as them to catch.  There are the usual GGB extras: an introduction by Monica’s daughter, Shelley, and introductions by Brian Parks.

Stacy Gregg - The Prize
The fourth episode of Stacy Gregg’s Pony Club Rivals series, set in an American equestrian academy, is out at the end of this month.   It’s £5.99.

Jenny Oldfield - Stormcloud & Miss Molly
Jenny Oldfield has two more episodes of her new Black Pearl Ponies series out on 1st September, in
which she continues her latest ranch series.

Pippa Funnell - Rusty, the Trustworthy Pony
Out on 1st September is the fifteenth episode of Tilly’s Pony Tails.  Orion, £3.99, and available in
Kindle, £3.39

Sarah Kilbride & Sophie Tilly - Shimmer the Magic Ice Pony
This title is part of the Princess Evie’s Ponies series, which so far has passed me by completely.  Out
at the end of the month (29th September) for £5.99, it’s a picture book, which comes with a free pony
(not a real one. Darn.)

Michael Dahl - Pony Brushes His Teeth (Hello Genius)
A new take on equine dentistry?  No, it’s an encourage-your-toddler book for good human dental health.
Out on 15th September in hardback, £5.99, this is the first British publication of this American book.

L Rigo - Little Pony (Look at Me Books)
Aimed at the really young, this is a board book:  ie one your toddler can chew but it will still survive.
Just about.  I wonder if this would have encouraged my two if it had been about when they were babies?
Probably not. It’s out on the 1st September. £4.99.  

Dandi Daley Mackall - Horse Dreams & Cowboy Colt
Dandy Daley Mackall has the first two episodes of her new series Backyard Horses out on
1st September.  £3.99.  It’s written as a counter-balance to the vogue for having show horses and
grand competition efforts, and it features exactly what it says: backyard horses.  Ones with no
pedigree; not at all smart - just normal horses enjoyed by normal girls.

Chris Platt - Star Gazer
This American book appears here in September for £9.23.  It’s a hardcover: a vanishingly rare thing for a book aimed at the older reader, and it’s the story of Jordan Mackenzie, who longs to have a Black Percheron.  She gets one, but finds out the horse has been abused.

Michael Morpurgo - Farm Boy
Out on 29 Sep, £4.99, is a new edition of the sequel to War Horse.

Linda Newbery's The Damage Done, which I recently reviewed, is out soon on Kindle.

Walter Farley: The Black Stallion’s Ghost, The Black Stallion and Flame, The Black Stallion’s Blood Bay Colt, The Island Stallion, The Horse Tamer - all 28 September
The Pullein-Thompsons:  Black Beauty’s Family - end of September

Friday, 2 September 2011


I can't show you, unfortunately, any of the Woolavington collection of sporting art, which lives at Cottesbrooke House. In common with most country houses, the camera is banned.  In addition, you are escorted round the house on a tour, and cannot therefore plonk yourself in front of the Marshalls/Edwards/Munnings and gawp for hours. The tour is frustrating when you are on a mission to cram as much equine art into your brain as you can manage, more so because it is actually very well done, and you are therefore trying not to get distracted by  fascinating FACTS but concentrate on the horses.  (Did you know one room in Cottesbrooke has had the same paint colour for over three centuries? Puts us repainting the kitchen the same colour over the last 12 years into perspective).

Still, by dint of only looking very quickly at the porcelain and furniture, I did manage to enlarge my experience of sporting art, which has so far been concentrated on the 20th century, as that's what I've needed to write about.  Ben Marshall in particular was a revelation.  There are some lovely Lionel Edwards studies of a Woolavington racehorse, which I preferred to his hunting scenes, of which Cottesbrooke has several.  Cecil Aldin is relegated to the small entrance hall, but at least you can look at those at your leisure.

The gardens are also open.  As my experience of those has been just when having my annual garden spend at the Cottesbrooke Plant Finders' Fair, when the gardens can get a tad full, it was lovely to see the structure of the gardens with a little less humanity about it.  And yes, I did find a horse. And coffee cake afterwards.  In our coffee cake holiday sweepstake, Cottesbrooke I'm afraid comes second to Boughton House.


A precarious life

Whilst I might at times live on a financial knife edge, making your living as a bookdealer not being the most financially rewarding of occupations, I am blessed. I am not a tenant farmer in Scotland.  I do not have a landlord. I am not subject to land laws which are not on my side.

Just 500 people own half of Scotland. One of those who do not own anything of Scotland whatsoever is tenant farmer Gentle Otter.  She lives in 21st century Scotland, but does not have a water supply that is fit to drink.  When a sample of her water supply was sent to the Netherlands for testing, she was asked if it came from a sewage farm.  Although Gentle Otter has a farmhouse, it is not fit to live in, so she, her husband (recovering from a heart attack) and her three small children, live in a caravan.  The landlord has ignored all pleas to replace the roof, which it is his legal duty to do.  So bad has the house's condition now become that the local council will serve a demolition notice on it. Once the notice has been served, the family have 28 days to get out.

Read about Gentle Otter's situation here; about Scottish land laws here; and about the plight of tenant farmers here - scroll down to read the Farming Comment from Rog Wood.

Thursday, 1 September 2011


I've been near Lincoln many, many times, and hummed and hawed about whether I could manage a quick dash in before having to be elsewhere.  The call of duty has always won, which I am in retrospect glad about, as Lincoln wouldn't really repay a quick dash.  Other than being vaguely aware it had a cathedral I had no idea of what Lincoln was actually like at all.  It is beautiful. Enchanting. The centre has proved mostly immune to the hide bound brutalism of town planners and architects, unlike its relatively near neighbour Peterborough.

Lincoln Cathedral has had numerous major changes in form over the centuries, but a thousand years of change have none of them resulted in concrete or brutalism.  Had the Church of England had control over the planning processes of England over the last century, I wonder what might have resulted.  As I know, obtaining a faculty (planning permission from the church to alter any of its buildings or grounds) is a teeth-grindingly slow process, with success not even remotely guaranteed. England I suspect would look radically different; quite possibly because large numbers of the populace would have expired from apoplexy dealing with diocesan planning and therefore not needed housing.  What was allowed however would no doubt have been beautiful. 

I don't imagine that some of the more experimental elements of Gothic architecture Lincoln experienced were subject to a faculty: the main tower collapsed in 1237.  Even this was several incarnations in. The original Norman cathedral was destroyed by an earthquake in 1185. What is now there is, quite simply, spectacular.

I love a good flying buttress.  And a good choir: Lincoln's Angel Choir is stupendous.

Repair is a constant process. I was particularly struck by the figure below, part of the latest round of repairs. It's a wonderfully vivid face - surely a portrait.

I don't actively look for horses everywhere I go, really I don't. A donkey in heraldry symbolises patience and humility.  I'm not sure whether having three of them on your shield constitutes humility or pride.

And outside Lincoln Cathedral was this:

and also this, which is not even remotely equine. It's the door to a B&B, and I like it.