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News from Slightly Foxed: ‘ There will be fair winds and foul, days of sun and days of rain. But enjoy them all.’ 
‘ There will be fair winds and foul, days of sun and days of rain. But enjoy them all.’  The words of the great fell-walker and writer Alfred Wainwright rang in our ears as we gazed mournfully through the rain-spattered glass this morning, remembering last Friday’s lunch of sandwiches and ice-cream in a sun-drenched Hoxton Square. We resolved to follow Mr Wainwright’s advice and, after several restorative coffees and much discussion of weekend and holiday plans, we agreed that it was better to be in our cosy office than on the fells on a day like this. Foxed cheer wholly restored.

Our little team will be scattered far and wide throughout July and August, with Gail and Chudleigh to Dartmoor, Anna to SardiniaAlarys to Whitstable, Faith to the Balearics, Hazel to Cornwall, Steph to Cromer, Jennie to Scotland and Olivia to Tuscany. Fear not, for it will be business as usual at SF HQ with one or two of us here in the office to answer the phone, respond to emails and post orders, so please do keep in touch and stock up on books and all things Foxed as usual. And if youre ever in Hoxton during office hours and could do with a cool drink, a comfy chair and a browse of the shelves, do ring the bell at No. 53. Readers are always welcome and, apart from the pleasure of seeing you, it gives us an excuse to drag ourselves away from the computer.

Whether you’re on a beach in Barbados, a cottage in Cornwall, a gîte in Gerona, or are just staying at home this summer, we wish you a happy and relaxing break. But before we get too comfortable, let us pull on our boots, draw air in to our lungs, and stride out up and across the fells with  Andrew Merrills and Alfred Wainwright.
 

There are two footpaths in the Lake District that join the village of Patterdale to the long ridge above it called St Sunday Crag. One of these is marked very prominently on the Ordnance Survey ‘Explorer’ map of the north-eastern lakes: it runs up past Thornhow End and through the scattered boulders of Harrison Crag, and on up to the smaller summit of Birks. From there it’s a pleasant stroll along the ridge to St Sunday Crag proper, then across Deepdale Hause, looking down into Deepdale Beck, and on to the heights of Fairfield. I’m looking at the map as I write this, and I can’t help stealing glances at the bold green paths which radiate temptingly out across those closely packed orange contours. I peer down at Hart Crag and Great Rigg, both short but exhilarating skirts across the summit from Fairfield, and then up to Helvellyn and Stybarrow Dodd, and to Caudale Moor and the High Street Range just across the valley. And as I look at them and the paths between them, or gaze at those magical letters ‘PH’, which indicate that villages along the way might well be worth a stop-off, I remember the days I’ve spent on the fells, alone or with friends, and think of the trips yet to come.
    There’s a second path up to St Sunday Crag from Patterdale which isn’t quite so well marked. It starts off like the first, but just as the dotted green line on the Ordnance Survey stomps purposefully up to the summit of Birks, a second track skirts along to the right, following the contours on the northern side of the St Sunday ridge, through a grassy landscape of boulders, until it finally joins its cousin at the top.
    This path is little more than a faint grey dotted line on the published walkers’ maps but is the clearer of the two on the ground. On a fine day, as it was when I was first up in that neighbourhood, navigation is never much of a problem on a proud fell like St Sunday, and so I followed the path more travelled (it seemed) with little worry that I would get lost. After about half an hour’s climb out of Patterdale, when the gradual settling of a hastily consumed full English breakfast was starting to slow the proud pace of the early morning, I turned, sat and surveyed where I’d come from.
    Ullswater lay immediately before me, Fairfield behind. To my right was the top of Birks, and to my left the great peaks of the Helvellyn chain that divide the whole Lake District in two. Even as I regretted that third rasher of bacon, I knew that there was nowhere else in the world I would rather have been than sitting on that unmarked rock.
    Few people knew or understood this feeling better than Alfred Wainwright – a self-deprecating Lancastrian who walked, sketched and extolled the fells in seven beautifully idiosyncratic (and simply beautiful) books collectively called A Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells. Long drawn to the region from his home in Blackburn, Wainwright systematically set about his paean to the glories of the fells in the autumn of 1952. His panegyric, he decided, would divide Lakeland into seven regions; each would have a book of its own, each of which would be written in two years. For thirteen years (or rather twelve years and fifty-one weeks – he proudly announced that he finished the sequence a week early), Wainwright charted the district fell by fell, summit by summit and view by view.
    The books are little masterpieces. In each, the fells appear alphabetically, described from a geological perspective, and from every possible angle of ascent (and descent). Summits are praised or denigrated, and all – even the least prepossessing – are sumptuously illustrated. Famously, each of the books is set in a facsimile of Wainwright’s own crabbed and painstaking hand, with the result that the reader feels he is peering into the geological billets-doux of one of the great English eccentrics – a sense of intimacy only partially dispelled by the knowledge that they have now run to multiple impressions and have never fallen out of print.
    Every reader of Wainwright will have his or her favourite passages: if nothing else the sequence is a monument to the self-effacing whimsy of a modest man. Enthusiasts point to the dedications of the different volumes, for example – The Eastern Fells ‘to the men of the Ordnance Survey’, The Southern Fells ‘to the sheep of Lakeland’, The North Western Fells ‘to those unlovely twins, my right leg and my left leg. Staunch supporters which have carried me about for over half a century, endured without complaint. And never once let me down.’ Again and again, the lovingly pastoral tone is enlivened by a wry (and occasionally macabre) humour. Of Hopegill Head, for example (in The North Western Fells):
 
The crag is a haven of quiet solitude; within sight, but out of reach is a popular walking route. In summer sunlight there is pleasant colour, the bilberry – greenest of greens – making a luxuriant velvety patchwork among the grey and silver rocks. In shadow, the scene is sombre and forbidding. The silence is interrupted only by the croaking of the resident ravens and the occasional thud of the falling botanist. This is a place to look at and leave alone.

    But the books are more than a collection of idyllic sketches and dry witticisms. They are an intensely personal account of a landscape that Wainwright loved, and one that he makes exceptionally welcoming to the reader.
    I had a copy of The Eastern Fells with me that day on St Sunday Crag, and it was Wainwright’s description of the fell, quite as much as the captivating concentration of contour-lines on the Ordnance Survey map, which had determined my route:
 
Every walker who aspires to high places and looks up at the remote summit of St Sunday Crag will experience an urge to go forth and to climb up it, for its challenge is very strong. Its rewards are equally generous, and altogether this is a noble fell. Saint Sunday must surely look down on his memorial with a proud satisfaction.

    But somehow one detail of Wainwright’s description had passed me by that morning, and it was only when reviewing my triumphs in an Ambleside pub in the evening that I noticed it. There, on p.8 of the description of St Sunday Crag, is Wainwright’s own inked view from the very spot where I had been sitting. His foreground is dominated by an unnamed woman – mine, alas, had been empty – but otherwise the view was the same, from the boulders on the hill down to Ullswater beyond.
    The coincidence wasn’t an especially surprising one, I realize. There are hundreds of such views in the seven-book sequence on the Lakes, and I’ve probably shared several dozen of them at one time or another, but for some reason I keep coming back to that episode in my head. Clearly the Lakes encourage reflection. Wainwright understood this too, of course. Each of his books closes with a moving passage, which ponders on the walks, the sketches and the writing of the previous two years, and bids farewell to one stretch of the Lakes, while stealing a glance forward to the treats still to come. By the last book, this melancholy is at its sumptuous best, and his famous conclusion provides an electrifying valediction to the great project, and to the spirit which inspired it:
 
The fleeting hour of life of those who love the hills is quickly spent, but the hills are eternal. Always there will be the lonely ridge, the dancing beck, the silent forest; always there will be the exhilaration of the summits. These are for the seeking, and those who seek and find while there is yet time will be blessed both in mind and body.
    I wish you all many happy days on the fells in the years ahead.
    There will be fair winds and foul, days of sun and days of rain. But enjoy them all.

    Time was precious to Wainwright, not because he was 58 when he completed The Western Fells – for all his protestations about the fading of the light, he was still to write his companion to the Pennine Way, to devise the ever-popular coast-to-coast walk, and to broaden further his vision of the Lakes through television and coffee-table books – but rather because he was well aware of the demands of the workaday world. Wainwright’s first experiences of the hills had to be stolen from a working life in Blackburn: his was a delight in the fells which continued even after the train, boarded in Windermere or Oxenholme or Penrith, had taken him home. He talks repeatedly in his books of the memories stored up on the hills for delectation when winter winds or mundane responsibilities kept the walker from his spiritual home, and of the delights to be gained from poring over the maps of Bartholomew or the Ordnance Survey, dreaming of being there again.
    And this, I think, is where the greatest appeal of the Lakeland sequence lies. While each of my copies has been battered by wind as I leafed through them on various summits, their dust-jackets torn by hasty stuffing into a pocket during a squall of rain, they really come into their own in a pub or in an armchair (or best yet in a pub armchair). The laboriously printed descriptions of paths and stiles, of ridges and waterfalls, provide marvellous inspiration for an adventure tomorrow but are still better as a prompt for happy memories of yesterday. Wainwright’s seven tightly packed little volumes aren’t guidebooks, they’re little capsules which bring the Lakes back to life in the minds of everyone who has been there, and who reads them.
    Wainwright is often criticized by a certain type of walker for over-popularizing the Lakes, but I’m not so sure that he did – at least not through his books. The Pictorial Guides are so fabulously popular not because they introduce people to a world they don’t know, but because they so beautifully shape our memories of a landscape that we do know. When I think of St Sunday Crag now, I see it through Alfred Wainwright’s eyes, as well as my own. And that is just the way I like it.

Andrew Merrills teaches ancient history at the University of Leicester. He has written extensively on the history and archaeology of North Africa, but he escapes to the fells whenever he can.

© Andrew Merrills, Slightly Foxed Issue 30, Summer 2011
 

Priscilla Napier grew up in Egypt during the golden years of the Edwardian Age. Here she brings vividly to life that far-off world – the house and its devoted Egyptian servants, the desert picnics with Nanny, the visits to Cairo Zoo, the afternoons playing in the grounds of the Gezira Sporting Club – and the long summers in England among their mother’s family, as the First World War began to take its tragic toll of uncles and cousins. A wonderful evocation of a place, a time and a climate of mind, and of how it feels to be a child.
The creator of the ever-popular Little Tim and Lucy books begins his story in 1905 when he was 5 and his mother brought him and his two sisters home to England from Haiphong where his father was a telegraph engineer. Left in Suffolk in the care of their grandmother, the three children grew up with a full complement of young bachelor uncles, great-aunts and eccentric family friends – a comfortable Edwardian world which is beautifully captured in Ardizzone’s deceptively simple prose and delicately humorous drawings.

When Adrian Bell left London in 1920 to learn agriculture on a Suffolk farm, like many townies he assumed at first that the locals were somewhat simple. But soon his own ignorance and inability to do the most basic physical tasks taught him a new respect. He grew to love the land and Corduroy is filled with precise and poetic descriptions of the countryside and of farming life. Not merely a period piece, it captures what is unchanging about the lives of those who live from, rather than simply on, the land.


 
The writer V. S. Pritchett’s mother was an irrepressible cockney from Kentish Town, his father a reckless, over- optimistic peacock of a man, always embarking on new business ventures which inevitably crashed – hence the ‘cab at the door’ waiting to bear the family quietly away from yet another set of creditors. In this vigorous and original memoir Pritchett captures unforgettably the smells, sounds and voices of London in the first decades of the twentieth century, and the cast of Dickensian characters among whom he grew up.
Diana Holman-Hunt spent her Edwardian childhood shuttling between two wildly contrasting grandparents. Her paternal grandmother, the eccentric widow of the pre-Raphaelite painter Holman-Hunt, lived entirely in the past in her big gaunt house in Kensington, while her mother’s mother, in her comfortable and well-ordered home on the edge of the Sussex marshes, lived entirely in the present. Both competed for Diana’s affection while being spectacularly blind to her needs. My Grandmothers and I is Diana’s touching and darkly funny memoir of that time – a small comic masterpiece of pitch-perfect dialogue and deadpan observation.
‘As you live through its story in these chapters,’ the author promises her readers in this unusual history of a small Catholic prep school in South Kensington, ‘you’ll be taken on a meander through the twentieth century. War, rationing, smog, mini-skirts, maxi-skirts, strikes, Thatcherism . . .’ Like many of the best books, Mr Tibbits’s Catholic School is not easily classifiable. But for anyone who has enjoyed Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall or Ronald Searle’s St Trinian’s, anyone who loves to laugh yet feels the poignancy of the passage of time, it will be a treat.

In 1951, a shy and solitary 14-year-old boy was sent by his parents to spend the summer with ‘the aunts in Flanders’. His account of those summer months spent in the dignified old French country house on the edge of the Flanders Plain has an idyllic, dream-like quality. Yet all was not as idyllic as at first it seemed. Gradually he teases out the history of the family and of the surrounding area and finally uncovers the secret at the heart of the book – the reason he has been sent there.

One of Britain’s most distinguished children’s writers tells the story of her own childhood in this vivid and touching memoir. Permanently disabled by juvenile arthritis, she grew up more than usually sensitive to her surroundings – the naval dockyards at Chatham where her father worked, and the beautiful Devon countryside where she and her parents went to live when he retired. After art school and the heartbreak of a failed love affair she finally found her vocation in writing novels that would bring the past vividly alive for generations of children. Her own story is the very opposite of a misery memoir– full of humour, affection and joy in people and the natural world.

Slightly Foxed Editions

Hand-numbered limited editions of 2,000 copies produced in Yorkshire by our craftsmen printers Smith Settle. Each copy is bound in cloth, with coloured endpapers, silk head- and tailband and ribbon marker.
 
We have limited quantities  of our earlier SF Editions .

Click here for a full list


 

 


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 
Saturday 12 July, 4 p.m.
West Meon Church

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: 
 

West Meon Festival


We may have arrived in Northumberland on a slate-grey and rain-streaked Friday evening, but the sun came out over the hills and valleys on Saturday morning just in time for our ‘Slightly Foxed Talk with Tea and Cake’ in Hexham. The event was hosted by our friends at Cogito Books, the family-run independent bookshop so clearly loved by its local community and beyond – all tickets were sold and the hotel ballroom was packed with booklovers.
 
Claire Grint, who runs Cogito Books with great energy and finesse, had thoughtfully placed book recommendation cards on each table to get people talking if they didn’t know each other, and bookish conversation flowed freely as tea and coffee was poured. Once settled with a slice of cake from the wide range of delicious temptations, Gail and Hazel began to tell the story of Slightly Foxed and the ideas behind the ‘magazine of enthusiasms’ to a hushed audience, all agog. Question after interesting question was asked by eager readers, followed by informal chat over more cups of coffee and a frenzy of book-buying over at the book-stall. As an extra treat, we foxes were able to pay  a visit to Cogito Books itself to browse the shelves and stock up on summer reading.
 
Claire and her team could not have been more welcoming, and it was such a pleasure to meet some northern subscribers, and introduce ourselves to potential new readers. We would certainly come again – and not just for another slice of cake!

 


Last month one of our very own office foxes took two choice publications to Rome. When Anna wasn’t busy exploring the Keats-Shelley House or wandering in the Villa Borghese gardens, she was reading Our Spoons Came From Woolworths, Barbara Comyns’s delightful semi-autobiographical novel which Sophie Breese reviewed in the current issue of Slightly Foxed. Essential city-break reading, we think.
 

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.

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.

‘I have been slightly foxed now for four years and I’ve just received a card from you to inform me that I can remain blissfully in that condition for another year.’ S. Boswell, Suffolk

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‘Although I was only 14 at the time, I bought Portrait of Elmbury soon after it was first published, and the other two volumes thereafter, but when I came to Japan had to leave my library behind . . . I look forward to reading it again.’ W. J. Jones, Japan

‘Yet another charming little book – always a nice surprise and very much appreciated.’ M. Maxwell Macdonald, London

‘I think the magazine is absolutely “top-hole” and only wish I had cottoned on to its existence earlier.’ R. A. Braden, West Sussex

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