Father, Dear Father
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Father, Dear Father

Not long after we launched the Slightly Foxed Editions, we came across a little gem of a book, first published in 1948 and long out of print, which we decided we must reissue. My Grandfather by Denis Constanduros is a portrait of the author’s maternal grandfather, who, though surviving sturdily into the reign of George V, was to his grandson a character from the ‘warm, gas-lit, stable-smelling past’ of the Victorian age. With delicate and affectionate humour it brings to life not only its central character, but also the world in which he lived, and which he surveyed with genial content from the windows of his spacious home in Kensington Gore.

The book was so delightful, so pitch-perfect in every way, it made us curious to know more about its author, and at this point we made an exciting discovery. There was, we learned, an unpublished companion volume, Father, Dear Father, which, like My Grandfather, had once been read to much acclaim on Radio 4. We decided to publish both together for the first time, and to include some of the author’s previously unpublished drawings. Father, Dear Father fills in, in an equally diverting way, the story of Denis’s childhood in the shadow of the other important male figure in his life – his father.

For readers in search of something bookish to give to a father this coming 21 June, we can highly recommend our beautifully bound Slightly Foxed Edition of My Grandfather & Father, Dear Father. All Father’s Day presents will be wrapped in brown paper, tied up with foxed ribbon, and sent with a hand-written card bearing a handsome wood engraving and a message of your choice. Please read on for an extract from Father, Dear Father and a selection of other present ideas.

Chapter XIII

My Father’s Day

In all the years of my childhood I can never once remember my father being in time for breakfast. When we had all finished and the table was littered with dirty plates and empty cups the slow slip-slop of his dragging feet would sound on the stairs, the door would open and my father, steadying himself with a hand on the dining-room sideboard, would fling his two sticks into an armchair and with a look of martyrdom that forestalled any adverse criticism, lower himself slowly into his chair. If there was a bill waiting beside his plate it would be greeted by a deep groan and he would pass his hand slowly over his bronzed, unfurrowed brow. If it was from his bookmaker he would seize the first opportunity to open it in secret, below the level of the table, suppressing his facial reaction to a brief spasm of pain.
    Through the wall, in Belhaven, a similar scene had been enacted, only a little earlier. It was clearly a characteristic of my father’s family that nobody came down at the right time in the mornings, but whereas my father entered the room in a state of defiant self-pity, Uncle Ath would come in shaking his head and muttering, ‘Here’s a time to come down to breakfast!’ It didn’t stop him coming down at exactly the same time the next day – or the day after, and the day after that. The other difference was that in Belhaven there were no bookmaker’s bills.
    Once seated in his chair my father would look up and, with a cry of pain, clap a hand over his eyes. â€˜Oh, I’m blinded, I’m blinded. Quick, boy!’ My mother, clearing away the plates, would say in an ordinary, conversational tone: ‘One of you boys just pull the curtain for your father, would you?’
    It was a kind of ritual, not unlike the summer solstice at Stonehenge. Presumably the sun rose at roughly the same time and place each day, allowing for seasonal variations. Our dining-room table and my father’s place at it being fixed, it should have been possible to work out exactly in advance the point at which the sun’s rays would strike the sacrificial object – my father’s head.
    It was never done. Perhaps, in our different ways, we all enjoyed this piece of family drama.
    My brother, jumping up, would pull a curtain: ‘There, how’s that, Dad?’
    â€˜No, no, you stupid boy – not that one’ – with more histrionic groans.
    â€˜Well this? Or this? Is that better?’
    It was a bay window with a number of curtains. You could keep it up for quite a long time.
    My father’s other popular domestic performance was reserved for meals later in the day. He had a unique talent for finding pieces of grit in salad. Chewing away happily like the rest of us, he would utter a sudden cry and freeze, in apparent agony, clasping his cheek with both hands. We would all stop eating and watch, fascinated, while his eyes gradually opened again and he glared at my mother in dumb reproach. It was as though yet another attempt had been made on his life and the fault was somehow hers. As always his reaction was so extreme that one tended to disbelief; but sensing this, and just to prove our callousness, my father would silently eject from his mouth several small pieces of rock or shrapnel which fell on to his plate with an audible tinkle. Then, still without speech but with a sigh of resignation, he would go on eating.
    Breakfast over, there would be a brief walk in the garden, supported by his two sticks, to select a rose for his buttonhole. This was an extremely important moment to my father. ‘How is it old Connie always manages to have a rose every day? How does he do it?’ he would report his friends as having said. Whether or not they really did, one couldn’t tell, but at least it was an indication of what he would like them to have said. The rose selected, he would place it in the small metal container, like half a pencil case, the bottom filled with water from the kitchen tap, which stuck through the lapel of his overcoat. By this time the cab would be waiting at the front gate, and a cry of ‘Cab’s here’ would come from everyone, while my father remained outwardly unruffled. But once the cab had finally rattled away down the Worcester Road in the direction of Sutton station a great calm would settle over the household; a calm which, I suppose, has settled over all suburban streets at this time of day for many generations.
 Extract and illustrations from My Grandfather & Father, Dear Father
© Denis Constanduros
These delightfully funny and affectionate portraits of the two most influential male figures in the author’s life conjure up two strongly defined characters and the times in which they lived.

From Â£16 inc. UK p&p

Use code FATHERS for free gift wrap

‘Vividly evokes the wartime childhood of one (in George MacBeth’s phrase) “too young to fight and too old to forget”’ Guardian

The High Path

In his prizewinning memoir The High Path, Ted Walker recreates with unusual vividness his secure, happy childhood in the England of the Thirties and Forties, and the influences that made a working-class boy into a poet.

Most telling, perhaps, was his relationship with his father, a carpenter who had come to the Sussex coast from Birmingham in search of work before Ted’s birth. The affection between the two shines out from the tender portrait of him, cruising the last mile home from work on his Ariel motorbike, playing backyard cricket with typical concentration, or struggling to master French with Ted, urged on by their loveably eccentric teacher Mr Jupp. A sense of history came from magical visits to his father’s family in the Worcestershire countryside, and sensuous pleasure from the grocer’s shop managed by ‘Grandad Harry’ – an Aladdin’s Cave where ‘a wondrous blend of smells: nutmeg and cinnamon, dog biscuits and bran, wax polish, ripe cheese and Brasso all harmonized to give a sense of good things kept in spotless order’. It is a picture of a proud and thrifty working-class world now utterly lost. With grammar school and a place at university, a gap began to open between Ted and his parents. These new experiences brought intellectual confusion, romantic longing, sexual frustration, but the warmth of his happy childhood was still his bedrock. The High Path is a beautiful book, written with all the honesty and sensitivity of the poet Ted Walker became.

From Â£16 inc. UK p&p

Cloth-bound Notebook

A good sturdy notebook is surely one of life’s essentials; a place for those vital to-do lists, a repository for Great Thoughts, memorable quotes, notes of books borrowed and lent, important addresses, other people’s recipes – its uses are endless. As a record, too, a notebook is every bit as immediate as a diary – a patchwork of everyday life that, years later, can vividly bring back the essence of a particular moment.

Available in two sizes & four colours.

From £12 inc. UK p&p

Use code FATHERS for free gift wrap

A Year of Good Reading

What gift could be better than a whole year of good reading? Buy a gift subscription for Father’s Day and we’ll send the recipient a free copy of our recent Spring issue together with their Summer issue. All lovingly tied up with ribbon together with a hand-written card bearing your message.

From Â£40 inc. UK p&p

Use code FATHERS for free gift wrap and free Spring issue

Buttered Muffins Mug

The SF mug is made by Hartley Greens & Co., a small firm with a distinguished history which has been producing its distinctive creamware since 1756. Our mug is in this traditional creamware – a type of earthenware made from white Cornish clay combined with a translucent glaze to produce a delicious pale cream colour. It carries an appropriately bookish quotation – hand-lettered by the distinguished calligrapher and artist, Susie Leiper – and our endpiece of the little fox in SF’s signature dark grey.

From £15 inc. UK p&p

Use code FATHERS for free gift wrap

Tickets on sale now

The Slightly Foxed Readers’ Day this year will be on Saturday 7 November at the Art Workers’ Guild in Bloomsbury, London.

This year’s speakers include the novelists Justin Cartwright and Melissa Harrison, whose new novel At Hawthorn Time is just out; the legendary traveller Dervla Murphy in conversation with her publisher Rose Baring; the writer Ursula Buchan on her grandfather John Buchan’s The Thirty-Nine Steps; and Sarah Anderson, founder of the late lamented Travel Bookshop which featured in the film Notting Hill, and author of a moving memoir Halfway to Venus.

Click here for a full programme
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