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News from Slightly Foxed: No hoopoes nor golden orioles
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No hoopoes nor golden orioles . . .


The long-awaited golden days of ‘in the summer, when it’s quiet’ have finally arrived in our usually bustling little office here in Hoxton Square. Ozalids for the autumn issue and our next books have been approved and sent off up to Smith Settle for plate-making, the bookshelves are restocked, the filing is ordered, the packing table loaded with supplies and all is calm. With everything spick and span we ruminated a little on what next to do before realising it was time for our next newsletter. 

The trouble with the newsletter is that people seem to enjoy it and then stock up on lots of books and summer reading, all packed up by the foxes’ fair hands. Would our dear readers notice if we missed one out? Even if they did notice, would they mind? Wouldn't it be nice to have a few quiet weeks of long lunches spent reading in the sunshine . . .

We pondered a little, took office dog around the square, and pondered a little more before deciding that we really ought to brace up and let you all know about the new additions to the website, such as a selection of favourite titles published by our friends at Little Toller Books, some beautiful pen and ink cards by Sarah Woolfenden, a new fox and book inspired album by The Bookshop Band and, most excitingly, a small selection of overruns of early Slightly Foxed Editions, unearthed by the printers in a recent clear-out. There's a handful of copies of titles including My Grandmothers and I, A Boy at the Hogarth Press and Corduroy, among others, but do be quick as once they’re gone, they’re gone.

You’ll find news of all such things further down the page but on the way let’s take a trip up Brensham Hill with an extract from our latest Slightly Foxed Edition, No. 34, John Moore's Brensham Village. Happy reading! 
‘Mr Moore has written a very good book. It has vivid characterization, country lore, humour and fine commonsense. It is true to the real heart of England,’ declared the Daily Telegraph in 1945 of John Moore’s Portrait of Elmbury. The same could certainly be said of Brensham Village, its sequel, which was published a year later. Some of the same characters who appeared in Elmbury are still going strong – market-gardeners, farmers, barmaids, members of the cricket team – watched over by shabby, gentle Lord Orris in his crumbling, mortgaged manor. These were the last shadows of an England that was on the very point of vanishing.

Brensham Village


John Moore

Almost every morning of their lives the weather-wise people of Elmbury lift up their eyes to glance at Brensham Hill which rises solitary out of the vale, four miles away as the crow flies. According to its clearness or mistiness they make their prognosis of the day; taking into account, of course, the season of the year, the direction of the wind, and the rheumaticky pains in their backs, their legs or their elbows. It is supposed to be a bad sign – in summer at any rate – to see Brensham Hill very plainly. If you can make out the jigsaw pattern of pasture and ploughing, stone wall and hedgerow, quarry and cart track, furze-patch and bramble-patch, and identify the stone tower atop which is called Brensham Folly, ’twill rain like as not before evening. If the hill appears as a vague grey-green shape, with the larch plantations showing as faint shadows like craters on the moon, you can get on with your haymaking, for it’s going to be fine. But if you cannot see Brensham Hill at all, if the clouds are right down on its seven-hundred-foot summit, then you recollect the old rhyme: â€˜When Brensham Hill puts on his hat, Men of the Vale, beware of that’, and you know you are in for a sousing.
 
Brensham, therefore, is as much a part of Elmbury’s landscape as the great Norman tower of Elmbury Abbey, as the tall chimneys of the flour mills, as the red sandstone bridge which spans with four lovely arches the meandering river. It rises up in front of you as you walk down the wide main street; it appears behind the bowler’s arm when you bat on the cricket field; it is the first landmark of home when you approach Elmbury by train or car; and if you glance round the corner of any of the alleys which compose Elmbury’s frightful slums its greenness against the sky holds out to you a prospect of better things. From Tudor House in Elmbury High Street where I spent my childhood I used to look out across the flat green fields to Brensham Hill and think of it as a mountain, its coppices as jungles, its slopes as unmapped contours awaiting an explorer . . . 

. . . When you started to climb the hill you left the half-timbering behind; the village still straggled along beside the steep path, but the cottages were built of limestone quarried a few hundred yards away, and the hedges gradually gave place to stone walls. Then you came to the end of the path and to the last cottage, which was inhabited by an old man with a wooden leg and a long beard. He kept in his garden a billy-goat which also had a long beard. We called him Goaty Pegleg, and thought of him as the hill’s janitor, for he was almost always to be found leaning on the gate at the road’s end. If he were feeling good-humoured he opened the gate for us; and we went through into a rough chalky field full of furze bushes, ragwort, thistles and rabbits. A stony cart-track led upwards towards the quarries, the banks covered with scrub and bramble, the hanging woods of oak, sycamore and ash, and the larch plantation on the hilltop, with the round preposterous tower of Brensham Folly just showing above the feathery tops of the conifers.

This was the unexplored jungle, the unclimbed mountain, the unmapped hinterland! (We didn’t know what a hinterland was but thought it must be some particularly impenetrable sort of forest.) Off we scampered, with our butterfly nets, our catapults, our rabbit snares given us by Pistol, to maraud, to slaughter and to explore.
 
How often the reality disappoints even proper explorers of virgin lands! I suppose that El Dorado wasn’t golden when old tired Raleigh came to the bitter end of the dream. But Brensham did not let us down; the hill which we had peopled, as we sat in the nursery window, with fabulous beasts and fabulous men did not fail us when at last we set foot upon it. There were no hoopoes nor golden orioles, it is true; but there was a pair of merlin falcons, and before our amazed eyes a brown jackdaw flew away among the black ones which with loud clacking and chatter rose from the old quarries. We saw no fire-crested wrens, but plenty of goldcrests in the larch plantations. And there also, while we watched and waited for we knew not what, we heard a patter as light as falling leaves, and held our breath while three dappled shadows cantered by, paused among the bracken, became for a moment substantial in the sunlight as they twitched velvet ears and noses, and then suddenly in a panic and flurry of delicate legs rejoined the trees’ lacy shadows and so vanished. The Mad Lord’s fallow-deer still roamed Brensham Hill.

So did the Mad Lord. We saw him, I think, once during the summer holiday. He didn’t look mad; but he certainly didn’t look like a lord. He was dressed in an old jacket and breeches which would have been moderately becoming upon a scarecrow, and he rode upon a moth-eaten grey, an ancient and decrepit bag of bones which the meanest of his tenants would surely have sent to the kennels long ago. We held open for him the wicket gate into the larch plantation; he felt in his pocket for pennies, found none, and gave us instead a slow, gentle smile. We raised our caps, and to our astonishment he swept off his hat, if it could be called a hat, for like his jacket it would have served to frighten the rooks. He rode slowly away and we stood amazed at his courtesy; a lord had taken off his hat to us and smiled! He tittuped down the ride, on his terrible mare which was rather like Famine’s mount in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse; and it was four or five years before I saw him again. By then I had read a book and I recognized a likeness; I knew that I had seen Don Quixote riding on Rosinante.

The Mad Lord, whose wife had died, had a daughter of about our own age, a pale-faced, wide-eyed, flaxen-haired child called Jane whom we encountered from time to time during our walks on the hill. She soon became friendly and at ease with us, and one day she informed us, to our great astonishment, â€˜I have an ancestor who lives in a sort of jam-jar. I only show him to my special friends. You can come and see him if you like.’ We followed her down by a rough scrambling path to the Mad Lord’s house on the side of the hill, where she obtained from her easygoing nurse a large and important-looking key and led us down the garden to a very peculiar building which she told us was the private chapel. (It had been designed, we learned later, by the second Lord Orris who had made a Grand Tour and had been greatly impressed by Venice.) She unlocked the door and took a candle and a box of matches off the shelf. â€˜We’re going down to the family vault,’ she said. ‘Hardly anybody goes there except relations.’ She held the candle above her head to light our way down some wet slippery steps into a place of cavernous darkness which was full of cobwebs and the rustle of bats and which had a queer damp smell. At the far end of it was an oaken door with a heavy padlock; she nodded towards it and said: ‘I’ve never been through there; but I know what’s in it. Can you guess?’ We said we couldn’t.

‘Coffins,’ said our young hostess. ‘But I expect they’re not worth seeing. They are all the dull ancestors. Robert, the exciting one, is here.’

She lifted the candle to show us a small recess in the stone wall, where there stood, not a jam-jar, but a beautiful urn, greeny-bronze in colour and very delicately fashioned. Hanging on the wall beneath it was a framed inscription in neat old-fashioned handwriting:
 
This Urn contains the Heart and Viscera of Robert La Bruère who fell at the Siege of Acre in 1191.
 
Craning our necks we read above it another and later inscription:
 
There is a tradition that Robert La Bruère distinguished himself in the Third Crusade, and was at one time a sort of aide-de-camp to Richard Coeur-de-Lion, and eventually met his death in combat with Saladin himself. His embalmed heart and viscera were brought home in 1194 after the failure of the Crusade. Having suffered various vicissitudes they were interred here in 1790.

‘What’s viscera?’ we asked.

Jane gave us a superior look.

‘Insides,’ she said. ‘But his heart’s there as well. For all we know it might actually have a hole in it, where Saladin stuck him with his scimitar.’

It was our turn to be superior. â€˜Scimitars don’t stick,’ we said. ‘They slice.’

‘Well, then, with a slice out of it,’ said Jane, tossing her head. ‘Like a melon. Naturally we haven’t looked. But I was allowed to hold the jar in my hands once. It was awfully light; but my father said: ‘Hearts weigh surprisingly light when courage and fear have left them.’

We began to think very highly of Jane. ‘Well, that’s that,’ she said, in a businesslike tone. ‘Goodbye, Robert.’ She seemed to be on excellent terms with her ancestor. Then she held up the candle again and a bat’s opening wings threw a huge and grotesque shadow on the roof, like that of a vampire; and Jane with scarcely a glance at it led us up the steps which were wet with green slime and showed us the way back through the garden gate.

Another wonder was added to Brensham, which was surely the only village where you could find the heart of a crusader.

Extract from Brensham Village Â© John Moore 1946
Illustrations © Anna Trench from Slightly Foxed issue 50
With every order over £15 placed before the end of July we’ll send you (or the gift recipient) a free pack of postcards or a smart grey jute book bag. If you have a preference please let us know in the special instructions box at the checkout on the website, or over the phone.
Brensham Village
John Moore

From £16

Buy together with Portrait of Elmbury for a small discount.

Born in 1907, John Moore grew up in Tewkesbury at a time when such small English market towns still had a distinct and sturdy life of their own. Mass travel, mass media and the changes brought about by two world wars would gradually destroy this self-contained rural society, but in Portrait of Elmbury, the first book in a trilogy based on his home town, Moore caught and preserved it in captivating detail. Though far from sentimental, it is a joyful hymn to the fullness and variety of small-town life compared to the life he found in the city.

Bundle from £30

Greetings Cards
by Sarah Woolfenden

Now on the website: a selection of favourite books published by our friends at the excellent independent press Little Toller.

Little Toller Books was born in 2008 as an imprint of the Dovecote Press, a family-run publishing company that has specialised in books about rural life and local history since 1974. Little Toller was started with a singular purpose: to revive forgotten and classic books about nature and rural life in the British Isles.

‘A small but discerning press’ – The Independent

View list

The Digital Fox

If you are a current print subscriber to Slightly Foxed you can now access the digital edition and full archive for free.

 If you don’t know your membership number, please send Olivia an email and she’ll send a note of your number to you next week. 

all@foxedquarterly.com

A selection of unnumbered overrun copies of early Slightly Foxed Editions. Very limited stock. All marked 'Press' on fly-leaf. May be slightly worn but otherwise perfect.

View special stock

 

The perfect introduction to a world of good reading.

A set of recent back issues. Nos. 45  â€“  49 (Spring 2015  â€“  Spring 2016) will be sent to the recipient (or to you) together with the current summer issue, two smart grey slipcases and, if a gift, a card bearing your personal greeting.

Issues 51, 52 and 53 will follow in the autumn, winter and spring respectively.

Our readers write . . .
 
We are privileged to have such a nice bunch of subscribers. Your letters, emails, cards and phone calls bring us great cheer throughout the year. 

‘Can I say what a joy your publication is, and I'm disappointed in myself that I hadn’t discovered it and subscribed sooner!’ J. Dwyer, Surrey

‘I was delighted to receive my issue today - a nice surprise on the doormat instead of the usual bills and junk mail. From the crisp artwork on the front cover that no HD retina display screen could possibly do justice to the soft whisper of turning pages, it is an utter joy to hold. And all this after reading only the introduction! Thank you for the speedy delivery.’ M. Cail, North Yorkshire
  
‘Thank you for your thoughtful acknowledgement of the order. How nice it is to get such a response!’ J. Pound, USA
 
‘Thank you for reminding me that my annual subscription is due. It is the best £40 I spend in a year, and well worth every penny. I look forward to another year of literary discovery.’ S. Stock, Essex
 
‘Another happy reader and all down to you (plural).’ M. Robinson, Kent

‘I’m looking forward to the (my) first number. Your publicity material is great. It got me or maybe foxed me. Let’s see.’ B. O’Connor, Belgium

‘What a well designed website. But it’s only what I’d expect from having been an admiring subscriber to Slightly Foxed since its inception. What a civilised outfit.’ A. Keener, Surrey

The Bookshop Band
We are the Foxes

 

Buy the CD. From £12

The Bookshop Band have recently released their second album of 2016, We Are The Foxes - inspired by a collection of books that revolve around stories of cities and those who live in them, curated by their local independent bookshop Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights. The songs were first performed in front of the authors themselves at the bookshop’s events.

The band sing on urban life through the many different lenses each book gives, via the lives of a household in Armistead Maupin’s groundbreaking Tales of the City series, to through the eyes of the foxes that roam the streets in Ned Beauman’s GLOW. The Foxy tour runs throughout July.

For all their listings or to find out more about the ten new albums they are releasing this year please visit:  www.thebookshopband.co.uk
 

For the full range of all things Slightly Foxed, please visit our online emporium of good bookish things:

www.foxedquarterly.com
Autumn Dispatch Dates

The autumn 2016 of Slightly Foxed is published on 1 September. UK subscribers should receive their copies by 1 Sept. Overseas subscribers should receive their copies by 18 Sept.

Also coming this Autumn

SFE 35 Anthony Rhodes, Sword of Bone

The Carey Novels by Ronald Welch, Nos. 11 & 12: Ensign Carey & Tank Commander

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