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September News from Slightly Foxed
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Cover illustration: Gail Brodholt, ‘Autumn’, linocut print
 

Substances & Shadows


It’s hard to believe autumn is here already. But the days are shortening, the air is growing brisker, and gradually the city is coming to life again as people trickle back after the long summer break. The autumn issue should now have arrived with subscribers near and far and we do hope you’re all enjoying it. We so enjoy the flurry of interaction with readers that comes in the wake of the new issue so if you have any thoughts or comments (good or bad) please do write in. 

On that subject, thankfully the vast majority of readers’ letters are cheering but this quarter brought a handful of delivery related grumbles. A few of you have been in touch to tell us that your autumn issue was dispatched from the printers without a postage sticker, resulting in the maddening combination of a trip to the post office and a postage fee. Many apologies to any readers affected by this blunder. If you were one of the unlucky few, please get in touch with Olivia so we can rectify things. (all@foxedquarterly.com / 020 7033 0258)

Now, back to the more cheering matter of the new term’s literary offerings. New this quarter we have personalized book plates, a wall calendar for 2016, a delightfully illustrated Christmas card and a new paperback edition of Hand-grenade Practice in Peking - Frances Wood’s funny and touching memoir of a year studying in China. And with two new Carey Novels and our 31st Slightly Foxed Edition, Gavin Maxwell’s memoir The House of Elrig to keep us busy, there’s no time to dwell on the back-to-school sinking feeling that comes round each September, no matter how long ago our school days. The young Gavin Maxwell knew this feeling only too well, writing:
 
Life at school and life at home . . . were so utterly unrelated that it seems now as if they must have run parallel in time and been lived by two different people, rather than in their true alternating sequence. I remember that at the time I used to think of life like telegraph wires watched from a train window – in the holidays they would soar up until it seemed they would climb the sky, only to be inevitably slapped down by the next telegraph post – the term.
 
In the following extract from The House of Elrig we join Gavin as he enters the strange and bewildering new world of school.

As the beginning of the term drew nearer, I counted down the days. When the fatal time was only forty eight hours away, I went to bed reciting to myself a little litany: ‘Tomorrow it will be tomorrow and then the day will come’; and adding to my prayer, ‘Oh Lord, let this cup pass from me, nevertheless not as I will but as Thou wilt.’ I spent the last day making with a sort of wooden Meccano set a bookshelf for my collection of Stanley Weyman novels, as though I were entombing heroes whom I would never see again. The feel of those books is under my fingers now, limp red morocco and impressed gilt lettering. I arranged them in the sequence in which I had read them; Under the Red Robe at the right-hand end.
    I do not remember the journey to school, nor why, it seems to me now, I did not travel in company with my brothers; perhaps I did, but in any case contact with them was lost so quickly that it would have made little difference.
    From the very first moment that I arrived at Heddon Court, Cockfosters, Barnet, I lived for that first term in a world of utter confusion, punctuated, as it were, only by moments of fear or humiliation greater than others. I had by far greater reason for this state of mind than even the average child who went to school for the first time at the age of 10; the number of other children that I had met in my entire life could have been counted on the fingers of two hands, and of these all but my own family had been the most casual of acquaintances. Now I was thrown among an unthinkable number of boys, with whom I had seemingly nothing in common, and of whom by far the greater number appeared unequivocally hostile. From the beginning I was in a state of utter bewilderment that prevented me from carrying out the simplest action without somehow making a mess of it.
    Heddon Court had one, but most certainly not more than one, sensible innovation to set against its appalling Baden-Powell dictatorship, and that was the system called Substance and Shadow. A new boy, a Shadow, was, theoretically anyway, taken under the wing of an elder boy called his Substance, and for anything that the Shadow did wrong the Substance was punished. In some cases this led to a reign of terror by the Substance, who took out on his Shadow tenfold any punishment he himself received. I was lucky enough to be allotted an extremely nice Substance (though perhaps not so much luck as the headmaster’s snobbery played the deciding role here –for we were the only children of titled parents) but even this in itself led almost immediately to confusion.
    At some moment very soon after my mother had left, and my brothers, if they had ever been with me, had disappeared, a plump, dark, serious-looking boy came up to me and said: ‘Maxwell minimus? I’m Simpson, your Substance. You’re my Shadow. Better come for a little walk to the playing-fields now, and I’ll explain things to you.’ He did his best, but it was all so strange, so extraordinary, that he might as well have been explaining the drill for experimental space travel for all that I could take in. He covered a lot of ground; school rules, regulations for playing conkers (but I didn’t know what conkers were, and was too shy to ask any questions), about not being a funk on the football field (but football was only a word to me), about not being cheeky to older boys (‘including me – I’m twelve and a half and I’ve been here nearly four years’). It took the best part of half an hour, and as we walked back towards the school he said: ‘If there’s anything you want to know, just ask me, you see, not anyone else.’ As an afterthought, he added: ‘You’re in one of the small dormitories, four people, and I’m one of them.’ He stopped and looked embarrassed, then said very solemnly: ‘When you’re undressing and dressing in the dorm or the gym, all the fellows think it piggish if you show anything. You understand?’ Whether it was because this was the conclusion of his homily or because it appeared to touch upon some veiled, forbidden subject, it was about all that had remained with me when some two hours later we were in the dormitory. I needed no reminder; I had never felt shyer in my life. I had hardly got my pyjamas safely on, however, when he announced that it was our bath night, and led the way down the corridor into the bathroom. He pushed open the door, and immediately I found myself in a more terrible state of confusion than before.
    It may seem incredible, but it was the literal truth that never in my whole life had I seen a naked human being of either sex or any age – here were at least a dozen people with no clothes on at all, bathing, drying themselves, shouting and flipping each other with towels. I was so embarrassed that I couldn’t find anywhere to look. Simpson came to my rescue. ‘Hang your pyjamas up here and take that second bath from the end.’ But the dilemma seemed to me appalling – if it was piggish to show anything when dressing or undressing, how much worse must it be to take off all one’s clothes in front of a dozen people? Anyway, I didn’t think I could do it. ‘Come on,’ he said, ‘hurry up’, with a trace of impatience; and, undressing quickly, he hung up his own pyjamas. Left with no alternative but to undress, I was paralysed by the thought that it was possibly piggish to take off the top half first, or the bottomhalf first, and I hadn’t noticed which he had done. ‘Blank misgivings of a creature moving about in a world half realized’– a world from which all landmarks seemed suddenly to have been removed . . .
 

. . . Elrig, with the spring wind on the moors and the music of the curlews, with the blanket of daffodils blowing in the sunshine on the slope before the house and the rooks calling about their nests in the clump of elms beyond – Elrig was all that I or Aymer would recognize as home. Each of us would carry with us to school some small memento of our high, wild upland; a sprig of white heather or of fragrant bog myrtle, even a little piece of peat from the big rush peat-basket beside the terrace-room fire, as those older than we were cherish a lover’s letter or a lock of hair. Coming home by railway from the south, the first landmark was breakfast in the Station Hotel at Dumfries (porridge and fried whiting, the fish’s tail ingeniously stuck into its mouth), then the branch line with its tiny, sleepy moorland stations beyond New Galloway, where the hiss of escaping steam would mingle with the clucking of the station-master’s hens, and there were rambler roses on the station buildings; then a long stretch with nothing but hills and heather and the gleam of moorland lochs, a stretch that ended at Gatehouse of Fleet, where on the bank beside the platform the name of the station was written in cockleshells and bordered by sweet williams, and pouter pigeons crooned upon a white dovecot. This was my gatehouse, the gatehouse to my home; I played with the word, turning it over in mouth and mind until the sound itself became a symbol of hope.

Extracts from Chapters 4 & 5 of The House of Elrig Â© The Estate of Gavin Maxwell 1965

New in cloth-bound hardback


Gavin Maxwell
The House of Elrig

The writer and naturalist Gavin Maxwell is best known for Ring of Bright Water, his moving account of raising otters on the remote west coast of Scotland – undoubtedly one of the greatest nature books ever written. In his childhood memoir The House of Elrig he describes, with the same lyrical power that made that earlier book a classic, how it all began.
 

UK £16
Europe: £18
USA & ROW: £19

Two new Foxed Cubs

 
Ronald Welch

With news of the revolution in France, the Careys are anxious about the fate of their relatives, the aristocratic d’Assailly family. Young Richard Carey, still a Cambridge student but already an outstanding swordsman, is sent secretly by his father Lord Aubigny on a mercy mission to bring them back to England. A complex tale of daring and disguise, and a vivid picture of the hotbed of spies and informers that Paris became during the revolution.
 

UK £16
Europe: £18
USA & ROW: £19

Ronald Welch

It is 1853, and on holiday in Italy, Captain Nicholas Carey is persuaded by his impulsive cousin Andrew to help three Italian revolutionaries avoid capture and escape the Papal States. After returning to England, Nicholas runs his cousin to earth in Paris, where he is still involved with the revolutionaries, and the two foil an assassination attempt on the Emperor, Napoleon III. Rejoining his regiment, Nicholas is sent to fight the Russians with Lord Raglan’s army in the Crimea, where he experiences the horrors of a Crimean winter and distinguishes himself in the Battles of Sebastopol and The Redan.

UK £16
Europe: £18
USA & ROW: £19

Time to renew your subscription? Don't miss out!

New this quarter

Book Plates


Most Slightly Foxed readers, we suspect, have some irritating gaps on their bookshelves left by favourite titles lent and never returned. A personal bookplate is an elegant and practical way of solving the problem and gives the book itself a special interest, identity and provenance. But commissioning an original bookplate is costly, and with this in mind, we’re offering readers the opportunity to acquire a personalized yet affordable bookplate featuring a wood-engraving by one of our favourite engravers, Howard Phipps . . . More
 

From £115

New this quarter

2016 Wall Calendar


Last year a number of readers expressed disappointment that we weren’t producing another Slightly Foxed calendar. So we’ve put our heads together and come up with what we think is a very handsome version for 2016.

Measuring 310 x 250mm and featuring twelve of our favourite seasonal covers, the new, slightly larger design allows space each day for vital notes and engagements.
 

UK £12.50
Overseas: £15

New in paperback

Hand-grenade Practice in Peking


China in 1975 was a strange, undiscovered country, still half-mad from Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution, when young Frances Wood boarded a plane in London to study for a year in Peking. Based on the letters she wrote home, this account of her experiences is both affecting and hilarious, a unique insight into a mysterious and painful moment in China’s history. Virtually closed to outsiders for the preceding decade, China was just beginning to make tentative moves towards the outside world when Frances and her fellow students were driven in an ancient coach through the dark silent countryside to their new quarters at the Foreign Languages Institute. 

Throughout the following year in an extraordinary world where ‘education’ consisted of shovelling rubble, hand-grenade practice, and cripplingly tedious ideological lectures, Frances never lost her sense of humour. Or indeed her fascination for the ancient civilization that lurked behind the Cultural Revolution’s grim façade. Based on the letters she wrote home in 1975‒6, Hand-grenade Practice in Peking is both affecting and hilarious, a unique insight into a mysterious and painful moment in China’s history. It was an interlude which would eventually lead Frances to her position as head of the Chinese collection at the British Library.
 

UK £12
Europe: £14
USA & ROW: £15

New this quarter

The Christmas Card

 
Snow outside, a favourite armchair by the fire, a cheering glass to hand and a copy of the latest issue of SF – many of us, given the chance, would probably choose to spend Christmas Day like the genial fox on our Christmas card. 

Based on an original drawing for Slightly Foxed, our convivial card, coloured in the Victorian manner, is available in packs of 10, including envelopes.


UK £11.50
Overseas: Â£13

Become a Cubs collector


Some of the titles in the Slightly Foxed Editions series are already fetching high prices from second-hand booksellers, so why collect this limited edition now and receive all 12 Carey novels, inscribed with the same edition number, at our special price?

UK £180
Europe: £204
USA & ROW: £216

What’s so great about Trollope?

 

October 7, 2015, 7pm
The Courtauld Institute of Art



 

Tickets: £5
Special concession for SF readers


Should we take Anthony Trollope seriously? Are Barchester Towers, Phineas Finn and The Way We Live Now comfort reading for addicts of the heritage industry and TV costume drama, or is Trollope up there with Dickens, Hardy and the Brontës: exponents of the Victorian novel at its most incisively original? Was Trollope the victim of his own indefatigable industry and dedication to his craft? And what does he have to say to 21st-century readers?

In an event marking the bicentenary of his birth, and chaired by the biographer and novelist Jonathan Keates, MP and historian Kwasi Kwarteng, poet Michael Symmons Roberts and novelist Joanna Trollope examine his reputation, his surprising narrative range and his often audacious and strikingly humane treatment of controversial themes and characters. Choosing their own favourites from the Trollopean canon, the panel considers whether Leo Tolstoy was right when he exclaimed, ‘Trollope kills me, kills me with his genius.’


Book online

Our readers write


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

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‘You said somewhere that you liked getting pictures of Slightly Foxed in action, as it were, around the world. Here's my contribution. My favorite time to read SF is in the late afternoon after we've walked our dog. I went to boarding school and late afternoon was one of the few times we were allowed to read non-class material, so it's remained a time of comfort reading for me. And your publications are most, most comfortable . . . Please keep existing until I stop.’ -  C. Strug, USA
 
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