News from Slightly Foxed: Look Back with Love

Look Back with Love

The leaves may not have turned but autumn is in the air here at Slightly Foxed. Its that time of the quarter again when we begin to look forward to the new issue and books, all made rather more real by the arrival of Don and Tracey from Smith Settle last week in a van packed to the gills with early copies of the new Foxed Cubs and SF Paperback. After countless trips up and down the stairs at No. 53 the office is once more stuffed with neat rows of binders’ parcels, all full of good books ready to be released to readers come September. What’s more, Smith Settle will be making the journey down from Yorkshire again next week with the new SF Edition, Issue 43 of Slightly Foxed and, rather excitingly, the new Slightly Foxed Notebooks (coming soon!). We’re slightly worried about fitting everything in but we wily foxes will find a way.

Whilst we take a break from moving boxes and preparing address labels for the new season, let us go to town with the author of our forthcoming paperback, Look Back with Love. Although not really published until September, we can’t help but share an extract of this wonderfully funny book with you now. Perhaps we’ll even tempt you to order a copy and help us to clear some of those binders’ parcels!


All the memories I have so far described are crystal clear in my mind; I see them almost like scenes on the stage, each one lit by its own particular light: sunlight, twilight, flickering firelight, charmless gaslight or the, to me, dramatic light of a carried taper. But I am sometimes vague as to the chronological order of the incidents. I know instinctively which ones are from very far back; then the years merge into each other, only becoming clean cut from when I reached the age of seven – which turned out to be a far more important age for me than my much-fancied age of eight, for it was while I was seven that three particularly interesting things happened to me: I was bridesmaid at the weddings of my two aunts, I went to London for the first time, and I started school.
    As Nan and Auntie Bertha wanted to be married about the same time it was suggested that a double wedding would save expense but, despite the family’s usual shortage of money, my grandmother would not hear of it. There must be two elaborate weddings within a month, Auntie Bertha’s first although she was the younger daughter – I cannot think why she took precedence unless it was because Uncle Bertie was approved of by everyone, whereas there were two opinions about Nan’s fiancé, but he was certainly a cheerful man and Nan and I liked him well enough.
    For many months my aunts had each had a cupboard in the golden-oak sideboard in which they kept their ‘bottom drawers’ and they would often unwrap their carefully tissue-papered treasures for me to admire. In rivalry I started a bottom drawer, but it petered out after I had squirrelled one tea-cosy and a penwiper. Nan and Auntie Bertha had a handsome collection of oddly-shaped vases and many crochet-edged doilies and traycloths – they both crocheted like fiends for the last months of their engagements. But the contents of the bottom drawers paled into insignificance beside the wedding presents, which began to arrive in the late spring. Auntie Bertha had a particular longing for silver salt cellars and pepper-castors, which she always spoke of as ‘my salts and peppers’. Her salts, shaped like cockle shells and nestling in a blue velvet-lined leather case, came early; but her peppers hung fire, and when it looked as if she would not get them her longing became almost an obsession. If any large parcel came she would sigh heavily and say ‘too big for peppers’. I am thankful to say that two sets arrived a few days before the wedding; she was delighted with them but I don’t think they ever came up to her imagined peppers.
    I used to hear friends inquire, ‘Have you got your bronzes?’ and, ‘Have you got your Maude Goodman?’ Chimney-piece bronzes seemed to be a necessity for Edwardian brides, and a picture ‘after’ Maude Goodman was expected to smile down on all newly-married ‘at home’ days. Auntie Bertha got her bronzes and Nan her Maude Goodman – coy children running away from a tiger-skin rug. Nan was distressed at having to marry without bronzes. She achieved them quite soon, but Auntie Bertha had been married some time before she opened her drawing-room door when the family was visiting her and said, ‘Look – my Maude Goodman at last!’ Uncle Bertie had inherited some fine oil paintings, but Maude Goodman queened it over them all.
    My grandmother made the wedding cakes, superb three-tiered affairs though the bottom tier, I was disillusioned to find, was a dummy hired from a confectioner. The second tier was for the wedding party, the top tier for the bride. On the day my grandmother iced the first wedding cake she said no one must speak to her all day and her manner was so grim that I drew away from her; but she called me back and said I could come with her if I promised not to talk at all. We then locked ourselves in the butler’s pantry with the wedding cake and I was so impressed by the gravity of the occasion that I would not even answer her when she spoke to me. I believe I prayed that the icing would be a success. It looked exquisite to me for my grandmother made the most beautiful sugar roses, but again and again she destroyed her work and began anew. 
    She let it stand at last, but she was never really satisfied and looked sad when we finally emerged from the butler’s pantry. My poor grandmother, even I knew that she was desperately worried about the expense of two weddings; also she hated losing her daughters. She was fond of Uncle Bertie and composed a polka in his honour, but she just did not wish any of her children to marry . . .
. . .  Nan had promised I should be chief bridesmaid at her wedding, which took place soon after Auntie Bertha got back from her honeymoon. The other bridesmaid, who was in her teens – Nan had been her governess – obligingly agreed that I should carry the bouquet and she the gloves. But, in case the bouquet was too heavy, I was told to hand it over after a while, when I was to receive the gloves in return. I did not find the bouquet heavy, but felt it would be mean to keep it all the time so, after a few minutes, I gave it to the other bridesmaid. Much to my indignation, she did not give me the gloves, so I nudged her. As she took no notice I nudged her again, much harder, and said ‘The gloves!’ in a hoarse whisper, but still no gloves were forthcoming; so once again I was left holding nothing and feeling convicted of youth by the entire congregation. She explained afterwards that the gloves got caught in the wire of the bouquet and she couldn’t get them free, but I went on feeling bitter about it.
    I wore white for this wedding; my mother made the dress and was happy about it. She herself wore pearl grey and the nicest hat I ever remember her in; it was made of pleated black chiffon with one pink rose under the brim. Unfortunately, Auntie Laura of the Brewery House asked to try it on and was so pleased with herself in it that my mother – who had received many kindnesses from her and Uncle Tyrrel – instantly gave it to her. I wept when I heard this and my mother looked near tears herself; it is the incident I remember best of any connected with the two weddings. On the whole, they were not as exciting as I had expected, though I well remember their curious mixture of gaiety and sadness; I have experienced this at every wedding I ever attended.
    My mother was sad when her much-loved sisters left us for their new little houses, and she must have been all the more so because she was then exchanging one fiancé (of whom she was fond) for another (for whom she seemed to care less). The retiring fiancé, a representative of a famous electrical engineering firm, had recently been transferred back to London, so my mother kept him on for the two weeks we spent there with Auntie Blanche; we returned with her soon after Nan’s wedding. 
    I was astonished at the smelly old underground train which bore us through smoke-filled tunnels to Notting Hill and, from then onwards, I considered London old-fashioned. Certainly the horse-drawn buses were, compared with Manchester trams (now electric), and I was surprised to see so many old cream-painted houses; most Old Trafford houses were of good solid red brick. Much as I enjoyed my visit it was not until much later that London became for me what it has ever since remained: my most loved of all cities.
    Auntie Blanche had a maisonette in Campden Hill Square – I was astonished that she did not own the whole house and even more astonished that she had to share the Square garden with other people. The maisonette was pleasant, but there was no hot water laid on to the bedrooms; had I heard of the dark ages I should have felt I was back in them. (Even when my mother and I, later, lived in an up-to-date London flat we still felt there was more solid comfort in Manchester suburbs.)
    Auntie Blanche was a splendid hostess and took us to see all the sights; the one that impressed me most was Hampton Court, but this may have been not so much for its romantic associations as because I lost a valued bath-toy there, a small celluloid doll, nude except for painted boots and possessing a very obtrusive stomach. My mother considered this doll indecent and begged me not to wave it at gentlemen on buses. 
    We went to four theatres. First, to the St James’s, to see Willard in The Cardinal. I was shocked that such a high kind of clergyman should disport himself in bright red. Then we saw Quality Street at the Vaudeville, which was expected to please me because of the children in the Misses Throssel’s school; I liked it well enough but it wasn’t exciting. Next came a musical comedy, The Schoolgirl at the Prince of Wales, which I liked for an astonishing reason: in the last act the cast hung up curtains and changed the look of the scene in full view of the audience. I could not get over the cleverness of this and it still seems to me surprising for the theatre of 1903.
    Our fourth and most impressive theatre was Covent Garden where we had a box for Faust, a last gift from the departing fiancé. It was a glorious evening though I did not like the prima donna who played Marguerite and said she looked like a fat cook. My hero was Mephistopheles – which might have been expected from a child who, in Red Riding Hood, had backed the wolf.
    On the last day of our visit I was told to walk round Campden Hill Square Gardens with the dismissed fiancé and be very nice to him. He was in a low state and I comforted him as best I could, assuring him I felt sure everything would come right.
    This must have been one of my first tactful lies for I had no feelings whatever about the matter, but he treasured my words and reminded me of them seven years later, when my mother at last married him; but in view of the way things then turned out, they couldn’t have been said to come right . . .

Also now available to order . . .

Ronald Welch
Bowman of Crécy

Set during the Hundred Years’ War, this is the real story of one of Edward III’s campaigns. Sir John Carey is on his way to the wars in France, and shortly before his troop embarks his life is saved by an unlikely hero, Hugh Fletcher, head of a band of outlaws living in the greenwood. Grateful Sir John adopts Hugh and his outlaws as part of his army and they follow him to France, where their courage and skill as longbowmen are crucial in the defeat of the French at the Battle of Crécy.

UK: £16
Europe: £18
Rest of World: £19

Order Now

Ronald Welch
The Hawk

Harry Carey is a young naval officer aboard one of his father, the Earl of Aubigny’s merchant ships running between London and Santander during the reign of Queen Elizabeth. Relations with Spain are tense and Harry finds himself called on first to save the ship from seizure by the Spanish authorities, and later to help scupper a Catholic plot to assassinate the Queen. A thrilling story which moves between the tough existence of an Elizabethan merchant ship and the elegant but dangerous life at Court.

UK: £16
Europe: £18
Rest of World: £19

Order Now

Ronald Welch
A Set of Foxed Cubs

Some of the titles in the Slightly Foxed Editions series are already fetching high prices from second-hand booksellers, so why not start collecting this limited edition now and receive all 12 Carey novels, inscribed with the same edition number, at our special price? 

Knight Crusader, The Galleon, For the King, Captain of Foot, Bowman of Crécy and The Hawk will be dispatched to you immediately, followed by the next six titles as they are published.

UK: £180
Europe: £204
Rest of World: £216

Order Now

Fewer than 15 tickets left

Tickets for this year’s Readers’ Day are almost sold out! On Friday 7 November we are pitching up again at the Art Workers’ Guild and there are just 13 tickets to be sold.
This event has become one of the highlights of our year – a great chance to meet subscribers, and for subscribers to meet and hear some of our contributors. It’s very relaxed and thoroughly enjoyable. Tony and his staff will be there with a selection of books from Slightly Foxed on Gloucester Road, and, as always, tea and mouth-watering cakes will be provided. Tickets for the day (including morning coffee and afternoon tea) cost £55. If you’re planning to come, do book now – we’d hate for you to miss out.
This year’s speakers are Charles Elliott, Daisy Hay, Michael Holroyd, Lucy Lethbridge, Justin Marozzi and Amanda Theunissen.

To view the full programme, and to buy tickets, please visit our website:

We are always touched and delighted by the notes, letters, postcards and emails we receive from you. Here are just some of our recent favourites:

‘Thank you so much for the summer edition of Slightly Foxed which I had missed – rather in the way that you miss a mislaid pair of spectacles!’ I. Hunter, Pembrokeshire

Slightly Foxed records those opportunities lost, reminding us all that long ago we really ought to have read more.’ P. Fleming, Devon

‘Thank you so much for resending a copy of The Young Ardizzone . . . The second one arrived on Saturday in perfect condition. It looks lovely and I hope my sister-in-law enjoys reading it as it is a present for her birthday.’ D. Waring, North Yorkshire

‘Thank you for the reminder. I really thought I had sent my sub off; I could not go without my “Foxy fix”.’ B. G. Mason, Middlesex

‘Many thanks for reminding me to renew my good lady’s subscription, thus redeeming me from a year’s supply of cold shoulders and cold teas . . . Keep up the high level of publishing, and I will continue to spread the Slightly Foxed “Gospel” to all.’ J. T. A. McGorry, Cheshire



David Roberts, Alan Brooke and Richard Johnson have whittled the submissions down to the following shortlist for the three judges, Lucy Hughes-Hallett, Jane Ridley and Anthony Sattin: 

Ali Allawi - Faisal of Iraq - Yale
Rachel Cooke - Her Brilliant Career - Virago
Henry Marsh - Do No Harm - Weidenfeld
Rory Muir - Wellington  - Yale
Claudia Renton - Those Wild Wyndhams - Collins

The winner will be announced on 25 September.

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