The Summer issue has now arrived, its cover bearing wanderlust-inducing artwork by George Devlin (an internationally renowned Glasgow-based artist who very sadly died last month). This evocative oil on canvas, ‘Searing Heat: Baumes de Venise’, with its brilliant colour makes us long for an afternoon ’neath the vines with a good book and glass of something cold. But travels to sunnier climes will have to wait, for summer at Slightly Foxed is a very English affair.
Our new Slightly Foxed Edition, John Moore’
s Portrait of Elmbury
- the first volume in a trilogy based on the author’s home of Tewkesbury - is born of an England now long vanished. As Moore’
s friend and editor, Richard Church, wrote ‘not since Richard Jefferies died have we had a spokesman of the English country life, the very spirit of place, who can conjure the smells, sights and sounds as well as the mysteries, silences and portents of night and day down on the farm, along the winding lanes, and through the lush woodland as John Moore does’. It’s an enchanting book and, with its summery green cloth and pearl grey endpapers, a suitably handsome addition to our growing list of memoirs.
Once the hustle and bustle that heralds the turn of the quarter has subsided, we’ll be off on a few literary jaunts around the country.
On Saturday 5 July we’re heading north to the charming market town of
Hexham for a Slightly Foxed
talk with tea and cake at Cogito Books, and the following weekend we’re southbound to the picturesque Hampshire countryside for an appearance at the West Meon Literary Festival with Ysenda Maxtone Graham. In the autumn we’ll be popping up at various London locations and in November we’ll be back at the Art Workers’ Guild for our annual Readers’ Day. S
peakers include the distinguished biographer Michael Holroyd, Lucy Lethbridge,
Justin Marozzi and Daisy Hay and tickets are now on sale. You’ll find details of all events further down the page.
Now, before we leap too far forward to upcoming events and dates for diaries,
let us go back to a magical vanished world, to ‘
the rich seething hotchpotch of a thousand ingredients’, to Elmbury with John Moore.
In the following extract we join John Moore at the end of a long hot summer, as he’s sent off to prep school to experience such pleasures as tickling trout, reading Virgil, swimming underwater and bug-hunting . . .
Country Prep School
Shortly after this I was sent to school, underwent certain metamorphoses, and was transformed from a pampered and coddled brat into an extremely tough little ruffian. This was largely due to the glorious prep school, a gracious Georgian house in its own grounds about ten miles from Elmbury, where I learned to tickle trout and to read Virgil; to swim a length under water and to enjoy English history; all about catapults, and a little about Attic Greek.
The poaching, the swimming and the catapult-shooting I acquired partly by the light of nature and partly through the companionship of three other boys, Dick, Donald and Ted, who had the reputation of stopping at nothing short of murder. The Latin and Greek I learned from a man who loved the classics and knew how to teach them. One day, when I had been consistently slow at finding the verb in my Latin unseen, he sent me to the Headmaster with a note. The note was folded but conveniently unsealed. Naturally I wanted to find out what had been written about me and what was my probable fate. I hid in the lavatory and tried to read it. But the sentence was in Latin. For the first time in my life it seemed really important to construe a Latin sentence. My mind worked at three times its usual pace, I found the verb more quickly than I had ever found the verb before, and when I had the hang of the sentence I was encouraged to continue on my journey towards the Headmaster’s study; for it said: ‘Do not beat him with too many stripes.’
This wise scholar, Mr Chorlton, had a cottage at Elmbury where he spent the holidays. He was a link with home, and for this reason I never felt exiled. The school was such a civilized place that terms passed quickly; and in the holidays I never wanted to go to the seaside, but always returned to Elmbury, where Dick, Donald and Ted were near neighbours.
And now with my new-found freedom and my awakened intelligence I began to find out more about Elmbury than I had ever known before. I explored the rivers and the brooks, the field-paths and the woodlands; discovered one by one the villages and hamlets; made friends of poachers and foes of keepers; and enjoyed a kind of Richard Jefferies boyhood in which holidays coincided with seasons and each season had its special delights. Easter holidays were birds’-nesting holidays (curlews and redshanks on the Ham; plovers on the ploughed land; finches in the hedgerows; whitethroats in the nettles; magpies and hawks in the high wood on the hill). Summer holidays, long and leisurely, were divided between fishing and butterfly-hunting, swimming and ‘messing about in boats’. At Christmas we followed the hounds on foot, skated on the frozen floods, learned to shoot rabbits (and other game) with .22 rifles, went ferreting with farmers, fished for pike.
I never minded going back to school; because school, too, was fun. But always, even at school, Elmbury was the background, its rivers, meadows and lanes were unforgotten, and with Dick, Donald and Ted in the dormitory at night I would plan the next holiday’s expeditions. We must make another attempt to catch the big carp in Brensham Pond; after that we’d hunt the old willows for Puss Moth caterpillars and Red Underwings; and when it grew dark we’d light lanterns and ‘sugar’ the trees in the rides for moths. We must tar the bottom of our old boat and make it watertight; we must go cub-hunting in September, and we must ask Keeper Smith if he’d let us beat when Squire started partridge-shooting; we must camp at the Hill Farm and help Farmer Jeffs with his harvest.
Elmbury and its green-and-brown countryside were always the stuff of our dreams. I was getting to know the place as Highlanders know their deer-forests: ‘every stick and stone’. I was growing my roots.
One evening in the summer holidays we were up in the larch plantation above Mr Chorlton’s cottage. Donald and Dick were searching for caterpillars and I was trying to stalk some fallow-deer which had escaped from a neighbouring park and which dwelt there as shyly as fauns in the thickest part of the plantation. Dick found a huge grey hawk-moth sitting on a larch trunk, and hearing his yelp of delight we gathered round him, admiring the unfamiliar monster, while he stood at the ready with the net. At that moment along came Mr Chorlton, out for his evening stroll.
‘Hallo, you rascals,’ he said. ‘What’s the excitement?’
‘Big moth, sir. Looks like a funny sort of Hawk.’
Mr Chorlton took one look over Dick’s shoulder. ‘Good God,’ he said.
‘Sphinx convolvuli,’ said Mr Chorlton, ‘come all the way from Africa; and you three rascals pounce on him as soon as he arrives.’ He put his hand in his pocket and brought out a large glass-bottomed pill-box. We should not have been more surprised if he had produced a white rabbit or a cage of singing canaries; for although we were aware that Mr Chorlton knew all about Greek accents, we didn’t expect him to know anything about moths. ‘Now listen,’ he said. ‘If Dick nets him in his rugger-forward fashion he’ll spoil him as sure as eggs is eggs. I’ll box him for you. But in case I muff it Dick with his net must stand in the slips and you others at point and long stop.’
We watched breathlessly while Mr Chorlton with miraculous calm persuaded the great moth into the pill-box. He handed it to Dick. ‘Lucky beggar,’ he said. ‘In thirty long years I’ve never found one.’
‘But, sir, we didn’t know you were a bug-hunter!’ It was as if Zeus himself had come down to earth and we mortals, discovering his divinity, had exclaimed in awe: ‘We didn’t know you were a god!’
‘Come back to the cottage,’ he said, ‘and I’ll show you.’
The cottage lay among shrubberies of rhododendrons and its garden was full of flowers, pentstemon and tobacco-flower and valerian, which we were sure had been planted specially for the moths. He took us inside and sat us down in a room which was lined with books from ceiling to floor. We had never seen so many books in a room before. They mostly had Latin and Greek titles, and it seemed to us that all the wisdom in the world was enclosed between those four walls. Mr Chorlton said: ‘I’ll go and get the key of the cabinet,’ and he left us free to explore the wonderful room. There was a net standing in the corner; and next to it a fishing-rod. In a jar on the window-sill some caterpillars which none of us could recognize nibbled a sprig of birch. And Dick, wandering round the room, discovered a photograph entitled ‘Somerset CC, 1895’, with Mr Chorlton, in flannels and cricket-cap, sitting in the front row.
He came back and opened the cabinet doors. The glasstopped drawers slid out silently one by one while we stood and gasped. There were long rows of Swallow-tails, Clouded Yellows, tawny Fritillaries in infinite variety; Blues in every shade from pale azure to the kingfisher’s own colour: hundreds of little Skippers; and then the Hawks, a whole row of Death’s Heads, olive-shaded Limes, Poplars ranging from palest grey to burnt sienna, Eyed Hawks with sunset-flushed hindwings, exquisite pink Elephants (not those that topers see!), Bee Hawks and Humming Birds. But there was a gap above the label ‘Sphinx convolvuli’; and Dick, gulping hard and trembling with the ecstasy of glorious martyrdom, said suddenly: ‘You have him, sir! Put him in that space!’
‘No,’ said Mr Chorlton; but hesitantly.
‘Please,’ begged Dick; as a man might offer up his one, his only ewe-lamb as a burnt offering to a god, and yet the cry escapes him, ‘Please, please take it quickly, lest I repent!’
Mr Chorlton, who was infinitely wise and who knew all this, didn’t hesitate any longer. He said: ‘I’ll keep him, then, because I’ve got a cabinet to keep him in; but he’s still yours and you can come and see him whenever you want to. And now,’ he added, ‘we’ll celebrate the capture of the first living Convolvulus Hawk Moth I’ve ever seen.’ He went to the sideboard and fetched glasses and bottles. For himself he poured out a glass of port; for us, fizzy lemonade, into which he tipped enough port to make it pink. ‘This wine’, he said, ‘is Mr Cockburn’s rarest and most precious; and it’s the last bottle; and a great many people would have fits if they knew I poured it into fizzy lemonade. But Convolvulus Hawks are rarer even than rare wine, and deserve a proper libation when they appear.’
We drank to the moth ceremonially; then we sat down, and there was a moment’s silence, and suddenly we all three asked questions simultaneously:
‘Sir, have you read all the books in this room?’
‘Sir, are you really a fisherman as well?’
‘Sir, did you play cricket for Somerset?’
Mr Chorlton poured himself out another glass of port.
‘I’ve read most of the books; not quite all; but I’ve still got a few years, I hope, to go on reading. Yes, I am a fisherman, and one day I’ll teach you how to catch chub with a fly. And I did play for Somerset, and fielded against Archie Maclaren’s 424, which as you know is the highest score in county cricket. Look it up in Wisden, and you’ll find out roughly how old I am; if you can do the sum, which is doubtful.’
It was dark before we left. We made Mr Chorlton show us the caterpillars – which turned out to be Kentish Glories – and then he tied us each a chub-fly out of a starling’s feather and a brown hen’s hackle, and finally we persuaded him to read us the Frogs’ Chorus from Aristophanes which always delighted us with its deep-throated ‘Brekekoex-koex-koex’.
He said goodbye to us, and added: ‘Now for an hour I am going to contemplate Sphinx convolvuli and finish the port.’
‘The whole bottle?’ asked Donald, full of awe.
‘The whole bottle,’ he said firmly.
As we went down the drive between the dark rhododendrons Dick put into words what we were all thinking. ‘He can read a Latin book as if he were reading the paper,’ he said, ‘and Greek as easy as English. And he knows every moth that flies. And he’s a fisherman. And he’s played county cricket. What a mixture of things he can do!’
‘And the port,’ we said. ‘Don’t forget the port. He’s going to drink the whole bottle!’
I think we all resolved that when we grew up we’d be like Mr Chorlton; and it wasn’t a bad resolution, for I’ve never met another man who could so beautifully walk the tightrope between the bios praktikos and the bios theoretikos and get so much pleasure out of the two kinds of life which lie on either side.
Extracted from Portrait of Elmbury
© John Moore
John Moore, Portrait of Elmbury
Memoir • 288 pages
Cloth binding • Silk ribbon marker • 170x110mm
UK: £16; Europe: £18; USA & Rest of World: £19 inc p&p
Adrian Bell was a rather frail young man of 20 when, in 1920, he left bohemian London to work on a Suffolk farm. Out of that experience he wrote Corduroy
, one of the classic accounts of life in the English countryside.
*2 paperbacks for £20*
Richard Hillyer was the pseudonym used by Charles Stranks, a farmworker’s son who grew up in great poverty in the years before the First World War. Country Boy
describes how, against all the odds, he managed to educate himself and get to university.
*4 hardbacks for £60*
Rosemary Sutcliff is one of Britain’s most distinguished children’s writers with over 40 historical novels to her name. Blue Remembered Hills
is the vivid and touching memoir of her own childhood.
Gail Pirkis and Hazel Wood, editors of Slightly Foxed, will be venturing north next month to discuss how the quarterly began from a love of discovering good books, how Slightly Foxed has grown over the years and the state of publishing today.
A morning tea & talk
with Slightly Foxed
Saturday 5 July, 11 a.m.
The Beaumont Hotel
Tickets cost £8 including tea (or coffee) and cake. To book your place, please call Cogito Books on 01434 602 555.
We look forward to seeing you there.
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.
‘Just to say how delighted I am to learn that you’re reprinting John Moore’s Portrait of Elmbury. As a schoolboy who lived near Tewkesbury, I read it more or less on publication in the 1940s, loved it and then went on to get Brensham Village and The Blue Field as well when they appeared . . . Congratulating you for your editorial insight.’ C. Bell, Hertfordshire
‘Your customer service is just excellent. Now only if you guys had a Canadian branch or two!’ G. Carrier, Canada
‘It is so nice to know that the Slightly Foxed quarterly exists as a thoughtful, intelligent magazine that is unerringly on one’s wavelength.’ S. Tailor, London
‘Everyone who I share my copy with immediately falls in love with it and the whole concept, presentation and so on.’ A. Haward, Bristol
‘Just to say that the books have arrived safely. I loved Sue Macartney-Snape’s picture. The eyes are marvellous!’
P. Marr, France
This week we’ve been posting off tickets for this year’s Readers’ Day to bookish folk far and wide. If you’re yet to buy your ticket, we would urge you to book soon as we have fewer than 30 tickets left. For those not familiar with our annual event, it’s a day of literary talks from Slightly Foxed
contributors, very relaxed and thoroughly enjoyable. This year’s speakers are:
9.45 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Friday 7 November
The Art Workers’ Guild
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. To view the full programme, and to buy tickets, please visit our website.
Some words from our friends
at the Art Workers’ Guild
Queen Square is a good place for bookish people to meet. Bookish people have always met there. Charles Burney – writer of the first great history of music in England and father of Fanny – lived at the southern end. William Stukeley, the first secretary of the Society of Antiquaries, was rector of St George’s church. Dr Johnson used to go to gatherings at the house of James Campbell until he found that whenever he said anything witty, a Scotsman would interject ‘Och, ye heard that at Campbell’s.’
The best things in Queen Square are now heard when Slightly Foxed
has its annual Readers’ Day at No. 6. This is the home of the Art Workers’ Guild, whose members include, besides distinguished craftspeople, book designers, publishers, illustrators, printers and writers. Here connections are made, ideas forged, and the understanding of craftsmanship promoted. This year marks the centenary of its Hall, and the Guild is raising funds to bring the building up to scratch for itself and the numerous kindred organisations that now use it.
The Guild is hosting a fundraising party, on 23 June, where a number of members will be showing what they do at tables and benches – a much better illustration of why the Guild is important than lots of dry speeches. If anyone would like to come to the party or might feel like supporting the Guild’s appeal, please contact the Guild Secretary, Monica Grose-Hodge
to request an invitation. Or, if you wish, you can contribute directly through the Guild’s website:
For the full range of Slightly Foxed Editions, Paperbacks, Cubs and all things Slightly Foxed, please visit our online shop.
This month a subscriber’s husband spotted a bookish fox in Bratislava. We did wonder if he was more wolfish than foxed, but in the end his bushy tail gave him away. Besides, in our experience, foxes are far more bookish. Could that be an ancient issue of Slightly Foxed he is so engrossed in?
Many thanks to Helen Holland for sending this in.
If you’ve taken the fox on an adventure, or spotted a foxed display in a bookshop, we’d love to hear about it, so send us a photo and a short description and keep an eye out for an appearance in our newsletter in due course.
Gail and Hazel will be introducing our author and contributor Ysenda Maxtone Graham who will be discussing The Real Mrs Miniver
, her deeply understanding but unsentimental biography of her grandmother, Jan Struther - the author of The Times
’ ‘Mrs Miniver’ column.
The talk will be followed by tea and cake and a screening of the Oscar-winning, 1942 film ‘Mrs Miniver’ starring Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon.
The Real Mrs Miniver
Tickets for the talk are £7 including tea and cake, and the film screening for those who wish to stay and watch. For more details on the event and to buy tickets, please follow this link:
Saturday 12 July, 4 p.m.
West Meon Church
The Little Ripon Bookshop were the well-deserved winners of our tenth anniversary bookshop display competition for their wonderful window display featuring fox-inspired titles and Slightly Foxed spelled out in special wood block letters. Not only are they staunch supporters of Slightly Foxed, but they are also a marvellous local independent bookshop with staff who really care about good bookselling with a personal touch.
The owners of the bookshop, Gill and Simon Edwards, are wholeheartedly committed to their community, to selling books to the people of Ripon and the neighbouring villages, and to organising literary events. In short, they are committed to the traditional role of the independent bookshop. Gill and Simon have complementary reading interests, which is a polite way of saying that they tend not to read the same things! They both love reading, and try as best they can to keep up with new books and great books, and they always appreciate when customers tell them which books they’ve particularly enjoyed. And to top it all off, their shop is consistently beautiful, bedecked with book displays, bunting and fresh flowers that lift the spirits while browsing.
The Little Ripon Bookshop
The West Meon Festival of Books is a small, informal celebration of literature in rural Hampshire.
has been to quite a few literary festivals around the country over the years but we’re especially fond of this one. There is something particularly pleasing about a small and perfectly formed literary festival – a real sense of like-minded readers coming together in an intimate setting. For Slightly Foxed
editor Gail too there is a very personal pleasure in coming here. She was brought up in West Meon and it’s there that she first became passionate about reading and about books.
Throughout the weekend there will be a selection of literary talks and performances with a Saxon homestead re-enactment on Thursday evening and a splendid cricket match on Sunday afternoon between West Meon and the Authors’ XI.
Speakers include Kate Adie, Miriam Darlington, Ysenda Maxtone Graham, Tessa Hadley, Tom Holland, Judith Kinghorn, Christopher Nicholson, Kamila Shamsie & William Fiennes, among others.
It looks set to be a convivial, friendly and intimate festival. Do book your tickets now.