Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Caroline Akrill - news


Fidra books will be re-publishing Caroline Akrill's excellent Eventing trilogy. Regular readers will know I am a big fan of this: the Fane sisters, for whom Elaine-the-would-be-eventer works are inspired creations and I think these books are some of the very few pony stories to be laugh out loud funny, as well as touching. The scene where the big grey (I am writing this at speed and I can't remember his name) is re-united with his former, now horribly arthritic owner, makes me cry.

A few months ago I interviewed Caroline, and the results are on my website here.

Monday, 29 October 2007

Mud

One thing I have noticed since we acquired a yellow dog is that she has a magical attraction to mud. We often walk with a friend and her retrievers: 2 flatcoats and a golden, and it is always the blondes who head straight for the muddy squalshy bits. I know that if you're a black or a brown dog of course the mud doesn't show as much, and I do wonder, why, when I filled in the forms for the rescue society from whom we got Holly, I wasn't a bit more specific when filling in the bit about what sort of dog we wanted: I bascially said anything as long as it wasn't about to die, when what I should have said, bearing in mind my aversion to cleaning, was any colour that doesn't show the dirt.

In my attempts to avoid a full wash-down situation with buckets and shampoo, I try rubbing the dog briskly with one of our vast collection of dog towels (our towels are all so ancient now virtually all of them are dog towels. She is much better off for them than we are) which does transfer the mud reasonably well, but then of course one has to wash them, and the combination of mud and labrador hair then blocks the machine, which I then have to unblock. So I am doomed, doomed to spend time I do not want to, cleaning, whether it's the dog or a recalcitrant machine.

When I was little I used to spend most of my holidays with my grandmother, who still owned a bit of the family farm, down the side of which was the magical Roadway. One of my guilty childhood pleasures was squelching down its length in bare feet and sploshing the mud between my toes. Delicious, and a wonderful wild change from my white ankle socks and sensible Clark's sandals.

The Roadway led down to the River, but not directly, as we had to detour round our Great Uncle's field to get there. There were two great forbiddens in my childhood: the River - never to be gone into, or we would be dragged under and drowned by the terrible Weeds - and crops. Absolutely never, under any circumstances, were we allowed to walk across crops. Once my sister and I were in a hurry to get to the River, and after taking a careful look around we decided there was no one about, and we could risk it. We belted across the field, and of course the seedling crops.

It wouldn't happen now, when many farms are worked by one or two people, but we were seen. When we got back to my grandmother's my great uncle was waiting. Recently I had to cut the corner on one of my walks to stop the dog from eating a dead rat, and had to, oh the horror, tread on the crops. I felt the guilt for days.

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Photos in pony books


Birte sent me this lovely photograph, which is from Golden Gorse's The Young Rider's Picture Book, published by Country Life in 1936. I love the group of Shetlands, with their solid little riders; presumably solid because they were wrapped in so many layers of woollen vests and tweeds. Is anyone else old enough to remember Chilprufe wool vests? These were thick, scratchy vests, made thicker and scratchier if washed at too high a temperature. A few years ago I found one my mother had saved: so I have proof her washing technique, at least when it came to woollen vests, ruthlessly suppressed comfort in the interests of thickness, and presumably warmth. These vests were a stalwart of my childhood, but by the time I started riding I had rebelled and no longer wore them.

Photographs, being of course of real events, transport you much more directly to the past than pictures, which, style of jodphur and total absence of the flash noseband apart, are reasonably timeless. Though thinking about it, the ponies themselves are timeless. A Shetland is a Shetland is a Shetland. The three on the right are having what looks like a fascinating talk, but can I, fan of Animal Magic, constant manufacturer of conversations for the dog to have with my daughter, think what they are saying? I cannot. If you have any ideas, do please say...

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

The Teenageer does Slum Survivor

and no, this is not a comment on the state of his room. This weekend the teenager and some of his friends are going to build themselves shelters and live outside to try and understand what life is like for people who have to live in real slums. They will only be allowed 2 meals a day, and cannot change their clothes. Frankly the last will be of no hardship whatsoever to my boy, but the 2 meals a day will hit him hard.

Besides making people understand how many people have to live their lives, the whole thing is being sponsored to raise money for Soul Action. This is the online giving page, and we'd all be very grateful if you could sponsor them.

Last weekend the teenager spent camping in the Peak District for the Duke of Edinburgh award, and it was cold, cold, cold. Even my tough boy, who usually strides off to school on the most vile day in just his shirt sleeves (WHY do teenage boys do this?) said he was frozen. I just hope the weather's not too bad this weekend, and wish them all lots of luck and above zero temperatures.

Monday, 22 October 2007

The Garden

This blog is supposed to be about my gardening attempts as well as books, but you would never know it at the moment. After a whirlwind of activity earlier this month in a desperate attempt to get the front garden ready for its stint as a location for stalls for the church's Scarecrow Festival, activity there has been none.

The back garden is a sad, and overgrown disaster. The terrace is looking particularly bad after I took up a couple of the vile concrete slabs to uproot a decent sized rosemary bush which was growing between them, and left the slabs where they lay. I plan to get rid of most of the slabs (they will have a second life either as things to be used by a magician friend, who will balance them on his stomach while someone clobbers the slab with a sledgehammer, or I'll freecycle them, which would certainly be a duller existence than journeying around the county and being smashed up.) Eventually, after meaning to for months, I will replace the evil slabs with gravel.

The borders are still full of tall and noticeable weeds, and the grass is crowded (we went beyond dotted some time ago) full of windfalls I haven't picked up in weeks. However, as the grass has not been cut for some time this is becoming less of a problem as the windfalls are simply less visible. Added to this it is of course Autumn, and that means falling leaves. I love Autumn when it is in the street or the wood and I can kick through leaves which I have always liked doing since a child, but I absolutely loathe raking up leaves from the lawn. It ranks with ironing, which is possibly my most hated housework task, as my most hated gardening job.

I can guarantee that whenever I finally prod myself into doing something about the leaves, an evil squall will spring up from nowhere and whirl the leaf piles I have carefully created into scattered chaos.

Still, on the slightly more cheerful front, I have, at last, planted my garlic. Three rows of it, and I hope it doesn't suffer as badly from rust as this year's lot did.

Saturday, 13 October 2007

Should ponies be pink?

Many thanks to Susanna for sending me the link to this article in The Guardian.

It's interesting. As the owner of a girl, I've looked at the sort of covers that are prevalent now on books aimed at girls, and thought "hmmmm" to myself. Aiming books at one sex or the other of course isn't new: in the 1920s to 1940s if you saw a book with girls thundering down a hockey field on the cover you'd be pretty sure boys weren't its target audience. And publishers after all do need to sell the books, and badging them means people who like that sort of book know in advance they're getting something they'll probably like. I do it myself when bookhunting - I can spot a 1970s and older Puffin paperback at 20 paces.

And covers do make a difference. My daughter still hasn't read Ballet Shoes, as despite my having several lovely early Puffins, she wants to read the one with the funky new cover. Never mind the fact what's inside is (probably) identical; that doesn't matter to her. And we still haven't resolved that one as I've refused to buy her the new one when we have several perfectly good albeit "old fashioned" ones at home.

As a much younger girl she was a huge fan of all things pink, and, I shudder to say, that vile parody of a pony My Little Pony. It's almost impossible to steer clear of pink because even if you don't buy it for them, someone else will, and I'm not hardhearted enough to take things away from her. With the princess thing, I don't mind so much its swathing in pink and glitter, because it is a fantasy: 99.999% of the population are never going to see a princess, much less be one. I do very much more mind roping ponies into this fantasy world.

Ponies are living, breathing things: they may be cuddly, but they also kick, bite, have worms, escape, refuse to do what they're told: in short, they're real. Owning a pony is of course a fantasy for many of us, but we can still have the odd lesson, and there are ponies generally around in the world, unlike princesses. Treating a pony as a bit of cuddly cutesomeness does seem to me to be the most dreadful bit of cynicism.

I asked if ponies should be pink - the argument Jordan's publishers use is that her books will encourage young girls to go on and read pony books. The amount of people who already read the immensely successful Heartland and Chestnut Hill books without ever having read a Jordan because after all they've only just been published, does rather give the lie to that.

Friday, 5 October 2007

What do you think? Should Jill be updated?


I posted news of Jill's republication on the Saddle-up boards, and some people there thought that the prices in the Jill books should be updated, so I wondered what readers of this blog thought. (At first I thought they meant the original cover prices should be kept too, which strikes me as an admirable idea: after all, the initial Armada paperbacks were 2/6 (12.5 p to those of you born post-decimal) and that seems a darn fine price to me, though I can see that Vanessa at Fidra might not think so....)


But anyway. From one point of view, I can see what they mean. When I read a book in which the pony is bought for £15, it obviously reads oddly, particularly if that's the only mention of price in the book. On the other hand, if the characters have been talking about buying sweets for 2d that puts it in context - the more the prices are put in, to me the more normal it seems.


And the major problem about updating prices is of course that they will very soon be out of date - whether the price of horses crashes and you can get a cracker for £100, or whether it disappears into the stratosphere. I wonder if there's any case for removing pricing altogether? Though it's difficult to see how this can work in Jill's Gymkhana, with the Bring and Buy Sale.

Thursday, 4 October 2007

Jill lives again


Fidra Books, who as many of you will know have republished Six Ponies and Fly-by-Night, have acquired the rights to all of the Jill series, and will start to issue them next year.
They will have the full original text, so Black Boy will be Black Boy, and not Danny Boy or any of the other things with which he might have been afflicted, Challenges for Jill and Jill and the Runaway will head for the hills, and all the Caney illustrations will be back in place.
Hurrah! The Jill section is far and away the most popular section on my website, so hopefully these new additions will mean she can enchant today's pony-mad children. And their parents, of course.

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Wireless - hah

We decided a couple of weeks ago to go wireless, as this would mean I could move the computer back down to the study, rather than upstairs where it has been since we got broadband. One penalty of living in a very old house is that it has had odd things happen to it over the years, which as they would cost a fortune to sort out and there are more important things needing attention, like buildings actually falling down, we have learned to make do with where we can. So, when, after 3 BT engineer visits and countless hours on the telephone, we were told there was only one place broadband would go unless we completely re-did our telephone wiring from scratch, we decided to live with it.

But wireless, we thought, would solve all our problems. Two weeks of mind bending frustration later, I am here to tell you it did not. Initially all was well, but then day by day the service got worse and worse, no matter what we did. Last week I ended up with no internet connection at all, which when your business depends on it, is not good. I did wonder if it was me - literally, as I am one of those people who cannot wear a normal watch because they send them mad. So am I death to wireless? Who knows. At any rate, we are now back to our dear modem and I am at least, most of the time, in touch with the rest of the world.