Saturday, 28 February 2009

Alison Hart: Shadow Horse

Alison Hart: Shadow Horse
Random House £3.44
Alison Hart's website

This is another one that's been in the to-be-reviewed pile for over a year now: which does mean that I can add another layer to my collection of negativity over how behind I am with the reviews - guilt, because this is a very good book, and I have kept it to myself all that time.

It opens with 13 year old Jas facing a courtroom and being prosecuted for assault on the owner of the High Meadows farm, Hugh Robicheaux. Until the assault, this is where she lived with her grandfather, who worked for Robicheaux. Jas found the mare Whirlwind dead, poisoned by eating yew, and her grandfather, who has since had a stroke, has been accused of negligence by allowing the yew to be in the paddock. Jas, however, is sure that Hugh Robicheaux has killed the mare deliberately and blamed her grandfather.

Jas is very much alone at the beginning of the book: Hugh Robicheaux is powerful, and she is just a 13 year old girl. She is convicted, put on probation, electronically tagged and sent to live with a foster carer. Even Diane Hahn, the foster carer, seems to have a connection with Robicheaux. Miss Hahn does, however, have horses: she runs Second Chance Farm, a rescue centre. Jas is a girl on a mission, determined to prove that her grandfather is innocent and that Hugh Robicheaux did kill Whirlwind. At first she is prickly with everyone, including Chase, a teenager who helps at the Farm. She is not, however, lily-white - she has absorbed more than she realised of the attitudes of High Meadow: horses are only worth having if they are beautiful and win things.

Jas does come to see that there are other ways of looking at things, particularly when she persuades Diane Hahn to buy Shadow, a horse suffering from a thyroid condition, at the local sale. There is a lot more to Shadow than meets the eye, and so the mystery goes on.

It's an incredibly absorbing book. The shenanigans of Hugh Robicheax are slowly unfolded, against the background of Jas thawing out and learning to like and trust Chase and Diane (a bit more than like in the case of Chase), and of course there's plenty of equine rehabilitation too. My sympathies were with Jas - although she's pigheaded, she's a likeable teenager and the pigheadedness is part of her charm.

The one quibble I have with this book (which was an Edgar Award Nominee for Best Juvenile Novel) is that there is no sequel. The book is all set up for it: there are plenty of plot lines to be developed. Hugh Robicheax is not brought to justice, though they're close. But there is no sequel. It is a book absolutely crying out for the next episode.

Alison Hart isn't immune to writing series: the Riding Academy series is one of hers, she's written several of the Linda Craig series, and she's also written a series for older children set during the Civil War. I'm really not sure why she's not gone on with the story. She has an immensely likeable heroine in Jas, a little light romance, an absorbing mystery, and some excellent equine action. If you were to put this book against others in the rehab genre: Heartland and Winnie the Horse Gentler, it wins hands down. As a crime fiction title, it succeeds too. I've read a lot of whodunits, and the plot turns in this one had me glued to the page. I read it again just before I did this review, and it was if anything even better the second time round

Friday, 27 February 2009

In America, books are bad for you

Read my post on the Ibooknet blog and just pray it doesn't happen here.


Yesterday OH and I watched Margaret on BBC1. There's a generation who remember where they were when John F Kennedy was assassinated (being 1 at the time, I don't) but for mine, I wonder if our equivalent is remembering where we were when Margaret Thatcher resigned.

Lindsay Duncan did a wonderful job in the play. The moment she opened her mouth and began speaking, I felt that same visceral surge of fury I felt whenever I listened to the real Margaret; such a good job had LD done of getting the feel of the woman, not just the way she sounded.

Margaret Thatcher had been in power for 4 years when I started work. One day I was walking up Upper Regent Street in London on my way to work in my poorly paid fundraising post for the Mental Health Foundation. Crossing the road, I leaped out of the way of a Porsche which wasn't inclined to stop, and I can remember looking about me and seeing the rush and bother and gloss, and feeling that the things I cared about: the lost and unloved, and working for not very much because you wanted to make a difference, were utterly and completely out of synch with the way Mrs Thatcher was making the world.

I didn't let that stop me however, and was still working for the Foundation six years later when I had a day off sick. I had the radio on, and Geoffrey Howe's resignation speech came on. He started on what seemed like the standard dull resignation effort, to which I almost instantly tuned out. So powerful though, was the sheer strength of feeling in the Commons, that something of it must have transmitted on the radio, because I tuned back in as he went for the kill, and I listened with my jaw dropping further and further as sentence after sentence slashed across the floor of the Commons. I recognised while I was listening that that speech had to be a turning point. Geoffrey Howe was possibly the last person I had expected to turn: he had always seemed such a stalwart supporter of Margaret Thatcher.

We watched agog as events unfurled, but I still thought somehow she would survive. Michael Heseletine just didn't seem a credible enough opponent. However, on 22 November 1990, I heard someone shouting out in the office: "She's gone! The bitch has gone!" I shot out of my office and hung over the bannisters to see who was shouting - it was Lucie Reader, the Director's PA - "Who?" I said, being pretty certain but wanting to make sure. "Thatcher! She's gone! She's gone!" And she had.

The office divided quite sharply between those of us who were fizzing with joy, and those to whom the resignation was a blow of almost physical pain. For some time afterwards I avoided my True Blue family, as I simply didn't think I could resist the temptation to do a dance of joy in front of them. I don't know if it's a symptom of age, but furious though Tony Blair and Gordon Brown have undoubtedly made me, neither of them have ever produced the sheer passion and fury that Margaret Thatcher could produce in me by simply opening her mouth.

Margaret I thought was quite brilliantly done. All those half-remembered politicians came galloping back: I particularly liked the tearful John Gummer, whimpering with misery as Mrs T looked on with loathing, though knowing she had to accept support no matter whence it came; the ineffectual Peter Morrison, and I remembered just why I liked Willie Whitelaw and Ken Clarke. The script was full of wit: Michael Heseltine trying to recruit Geoffrey Howe to his cause and being brushed off effortlessly was a particularly good moment.

The scene in one of the Commons tearooms, when Norman Tebbitt insisted on her trying to rally support, was a horrible display of all round awkwardness, from the moment silence fell as she entered the room to her hissed "Get me out of this."

I did wonder if the play would be ended showing Margaret and Dennis (a sterling performance by an actor the BBC hasn't credited on the site, to its shame) leaving Downing Street with her tear-stained face turned to the cameras, but it stopped as she opened the door to face the press. A wise decision, I think. Showing the collapse would have been cruel - it was already quite obvious from the programme just how wedded she was to power, no matter what it did to her family. Poor Carol; forced to move out during her finals.

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Archibald, don't eat the bedclothes

My friend Louise sent me this picture today. It's from a children's book with the rather wince-making title For The Wee Ones. I thought, when I read that (because I read the message before I looked at the picture) that the picture was going to be a typical winsome production from the school of artists who think (or who are paid to think) that the child is a thing sent from God and a blissful thing. They had obviously never met a child, and certainly not mine.

I should have known Louise better. The artist responsible for Archibald, don't eat the bedclothes slipped this one past the editors. Just look at the poor, broken Mother Rabbit. She knows she has not the faintest chance of being listened to, and poor thing, she is stooped in the way of a mother to whom this is just the lastest in a long line of horror; with nothing good to come.

And Archibald is obviously the spawn of the Devil. Just look at those eyes. He'll have the bed after he's finished the bedclothes.

It just goes to show one should never underestimate an artist.

Monday, 23 February 2009

Not as cold as last year but still...

Every February for the last few years I have helped a friend with her garden opening. Another friend Clare and I run the plant stall - the one problem with this is that we are always outside, and it's always February. Previous years have been eye-wateringly cold, despite 300 layers of clothing and fairly constant hot drinks. This year it was above zero (a good start) - in fact so far above zero I wore a measly three layers. That was fine for the first two hours, but when you are basically just standing around outside it does begin not to be. By the end of hour 4 Clare and I needed intensive Aga reheating therapy. You'd think by now, with the amount of my life I spend outside, and my advanced age, that I would have got the hang of dressing for the weather.

Still, the garden looked wonderful; the 100 varieties of snowdrop were busily doing their thing, and over 200 people came, raising a heap of money for the National Garden Scheme and the church. My daughter also discovered a talent for waitressing. Would like to think of some way I can turn this new keenness for helping to my advantage, but know I will fail miserably.

Some snowdrops:

Some of the garden:

We sold eggs on the stall as well, and here are the half dozen my girls managed to churn out. I didn't think of writing the date of laying on in pencil until I re-read a Monica Edwards where Andrea writes the date on. What an excellent idea, I thought.

I think this is the most amazing tree. I love its twisty forms and the whole nubbly texture of it. It's an acacia.

Saturday, 21 February 2009

The sickly hen

Had a bit of a shock yesterday afternoon when I went to give the hens their corn (they get this an hour or two before bedtime). Pandora, the Sussex, emerged from the stable with the remains of soft-shelled eggs hanging down, and a prolapsed oviduct.

What, my husband asked later, did I do? First I went and fetched a helpful child. Then I fetched another helpful but less squeamish child - son, who did an excellent job of holding and soothing hen. He really is very good with animals. Just think, I muttered, as I cleaned Pandora's back end up, how this will sound at medical school interviews, for son wants to be a doctor. Son replied that he didn't quite see his future in terms of hens.

I managed to remove the remains of the egg, at which point the prolapse went back of its own accord but today poor Pandora is still not quite the thing. She is isolated from the others in a darkened stable, and is drinking but not eating more than a peck or too. Fingers crossed. I'll post updates on Twitter, I think, as it will be quicker. Do hope I do not have to dispatch her, as I haven't done this before but I can't leave her to go on more than a couple of days if she doesn't perk up.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

The power of the wellie

I liked the snow. It made life a bit more exciting, and perhaps best of all dog walks were clean. A little light towelling needed on return for drying purposes, but that was it. It's not like that now.

Friday, 13 February 2009

Stumbled across this

Floreal - quite stunning. My French is not quite up to the task of reading the whole blog but the pictures are simply glorious.

Review - Dandi Daley Mackall: Winnie the Horse Gentler

Dandi Daley Mackall
Winnie the Horse Gentler 1: Wild Thing

I have had this book hanging around for over a year now in my to-be-reviewed pile, which is rather slow going even for me, the High Priestess of Prevarication.

It's an American book, part of a series of eight titles. I did wonder, what with the exchange rate falling and all, if the book was going to be horrendously expensive now, but having looked it up on Amazon it's actually considerably cheaper than when I bought it. Something going right for someone, presumably.

The title is not, I have to admit, one that filled me with a lot of confidence. It sounds like something Jill's mother, Mrs Crewe, author of such gems as Barbie Brightsides, would have written. Added to that, my acquaintance with the Horse Healer genre so far, in the shape of the Heartland series, hasn't been overwhelmingly positive.

There are similarities with Heartland, which predates it by a couple of years. WTHG's heroine, Winnie, lost her mother in a tragic car accident, which she sees as her fault, as they were on their way to see a horse Winnie wanted to look at, which is pretty much what happened to Heartland's Amy. Winnie and Amy both have that Magic Touch With A Horse Which No One Else Does. They have some difficult family relationships.

Dandi Dalely Mackall is not Lauren Brookes (she's one person, for a start). Her heroine, Winnie, who is 12, is not written as a conduit for storms of emotion. Winnie is written as a girl who's having a hard time, but she is sparky and on occasions funny (does Heartland ever do humour?) and she is believable.
Both books though do have an agenda. Heartland's is a marketing one, rather than a literary one. It's written to appeal to the widest possible number of teenage girls and present them with wish fulfilment. The Horse Healer series also has an agenda, but it's a Christian one.
This is not immediately apparent when you start the book. It opens with a statement I imagine a lot of us will have sympathy for:

"My mom used to say, "Winnie Willis, in the beginning God created heaven and earth and horses. And sometimes I have to wonder if the good Lord shouldn't have quit while he was ahead."
The mentions of God come in quite small-sized portions: Winnie's sister Lizzie, a few pages in, calls something "a king-size God thing", at which I began to twitch slightly, and then Winnie talks about praying - or at least trying to pray, because she's found this hard since her mother died. At that point my antennae were twitching a lot. I have a stereotype alive and living in my head: one where the whole intent and purpose of a book is as an evangelical tract of the more whoopee variety of American Christianity, and the author's faith is going to be rammed down my resistant throat. Oh no, I thought. I am going to be clobbered relentlessly about the head with fundamentalism, and goodness me, I'm an Anglican! I don't DO fundamentalism - and I don't really like stories that are a vehicle for something else. Either a story succeeds on its own merits or it doesn't.

Well, prepare to ditch your stereotypes of what an American Christian pony book is like because this one is good. I found the bits of the book where faith is mentioned entirely believable, and actually pretty much what my own experience of faith is. Despite the fact Dandi Daley Mackall comes from a very different tradition of Christianity to my own, I think there is still a huge meeting ground (now isn't that a classic Anglican thing to say?)

Winnie talks to God in much the same way that I do - chuntering on would be an apt way of describing it, I think. She does have obvious and huge problems with God after the death of her mother, and I guess that's why we see her two years down the line from that death, at a point when she might be willing to think about God again.

If you are not a Christian, I don't think that you would have huge problems reading this book. Although Winnie's gradual recovery of faith is important to the book, there is far, far more about her relationships with her sister and her father, and with the new people she meets in Ohio, and of course plenty of action with Wild Thing, the Arabian mare. All of these relationships change over the course of the book.

The story itself is a fairly conventional one: girl meets horse, overcomes its trouble and off we go into the sunset, but the book does place Winnie in a slightly more unusual situation than normal. After her mother's death, Winnie's father cannnot stand to be in the same place for long, and they have moved five times. Winnie and Lizzie are desperate to try and put down some roots and not move again, and this insecurity is the focus of the story.

Dandi Daley Mackall's strength is in the portrayal of the characters. They never become cardboard cutouts, moved around to prove a Christian point. She sketches them in deftly, and leaves enough unresolved issues in the story for you to be intrigued about how they will work out in future stories. The one exception to this is the villains of the piece, the Spidells.

Winnie is trying to earn money by working as a mucker out at Stable-Mart - a large operation which is as much livery by factory farming standards as you can get, and owned by the Spidells. They want to churn out horses who win at shows, rather than look at how the horse actually functions.

It's a very easy thing for an author to label characters as villains, and then that's how they stay, labelled forever as the ones you boo and hiss whenever they stomp onto the book's stage, trailing their many wickednesses about them. I hope that in further books the Spidells are allowed to grow a few half-way decent traits, or at least show some movement towards realising there is a different way, even if they turn away from it.

The other quibble I had with the book was the time limit Winnie has in which to gentle the mare: a week. I lost a bit of belief here: I find it difficult to believe that an Arabian mare who is described as basically bonkers, unapproachable by all (except for Winnie of course, and then only with care) is going to turn right round in a week, but I suppose anything is possible. It's just not very likely.

Despite that, I liked my first taste of this series. The book works as a story. It's well told. It's certainly an excellent antidote to the shop-till-you-drop antics in Chestnut Hill.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

The Ice Wood

The frost was so hard yesterday not only could dog stand on the snow and make no impact, so could I (and I am a LOT heavier than the dog.) This morning, before diving back into cataloguing, I decided to do the wood walk: not a mistake I'll make again, at least until the ice has gone.

The wood walk is much more popular than the fields one, so all the snow has been compacted and the paths are a beautiful sheet of solid, bumpy ice. Even the dog fell over, after she tried a complicated gambol with a stick.

The poor deer are so hungry they have even been nibbling at the stinking iris.

I love the strange geometric shapes in the ice. The dog doesn't appreciate me stopping all the time to take photos, and likes to remind me that she hasn't forgotten about me by thundering through the puddles, sending the patterns into cracky disaster. The photos are pre-labrador.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

When new books come

Blogging has been a bit on the back burner just lately: my life generally is just about copable with until I buy a collection of new books. Most booksellers I know have piles of books here and there: they may have been bought well into last year, but the time to deal with them just isn't there. I imagine most booksellers' families (those that work from home, at any rate) are used to the sudden decrease in living space once the bookseller in the family has been buying.

I do try and keep the piles within bounds, but it is nearly impossible, particularly when it is, as it is now, stocktaking time, and piles of books are washing hither and thither.

Anyway, I thought it might be interesting to someone out there to see what I actually do with my days so here is a blow by blow description of the minutiae that overwhelm me when I've been buying. Actually it isn't quite a blow by blow description because that would be quite unbelievably dull, so here are the edited highlights of a bookseller's day. And if this seems boring to you, imagine what the bits I've left out might be like.

Something I'm asked all the time is where I get my books. Most of them come from people who contact me because they want to sell their collections, or their duplicates, or things they've decided they don't want to collect anymore. I very rarely buy from auctions (though it has been known), though I do buy bulk lots from ebay every now and then. I occasionally go bookhunting - I love going bookhunting but time very seldom allows, alas. The odd thing comes from charity shops and the even odder one from bootsales, but the vast majority of my stock comes from private individuals.

Not every enquiry results in my buying books. Most of the people who sell to me are very clued up and understand how the business works. A little knowledge, though, is not always helpful. I get some lists of books from sellers who have carefully looked up their books on Abe and Amazon, and want me to pay them the prices listed on Abe or Amazon. If I do that, I don't actually make a profit: I make a thumping loss, so I then have to explain (tactfully, as they might change their minds) that I don't pay retail prices; retail prices are arrived at after you've added in overheads and a profit margin, and that therefore I pay anywhere from 25% - 50% of retail price for books, depending on rarity. There are also some books I don't buy at all because they will not sell.

The more poignant ones are the people who have heard somewhere that Monica Edwards, say, is terribly collectable and rare. They have a beloved copy of Wish for a Pony they have cherished since childhood, and would I like to buy it? Almost without exception, this is the Children's Press edition; very common and sadly worth not a lot.

If after all that, I make an offer and the seller accepts, Husband or I then either sally forth to drive and get them, or arrange for them to be posted (in an economical way - I did have one client who once posted every single book separately and by Special Delivery. I certainly learned from that one.)

Once I get to where the books are, I then like to check them, which is interesting if you're doing the check in a windswept motorway service station carpark. Again, I've learned it does pay to check, after a book I've been salivating over from the description turns out to be a tatty ex library copy with chunks missing. Thankfully this is very rare, and my faith in human nature is usually boosted by the people I buy from, not the reverse!

After the receipt and cheque books have been flourished, off I go, car bulging with cardboard boxes (I keep a stock of empty cardboard fruit boxes for buying expeditions).

Once the books and I are home, they then have to be entered on the stock list, together with what I have paid for each one. I do a quick pricing then, and a very quick condition check. Once the books are on the stock list, I then go over them more carefully. With say, Peter Beckford's Letters on Hunting, this means checking which edition I have (the Hodder 1911) and what plates etc it should have. Each plate then needs checking, and the book checking for condition. Unfortunately it takes just as long to check a cheap book has its 20 plates as an expensive one, but it still needs to be done. The upside, though, is that you do get to look at the plates in the first place, and some of them are corkers. The ones in Peter Beckford are by G D Armour, and I drooled over them (not literally, prospective buyers - I keep the drool purely figurative).

Books are then separated off into those that need attention and those that don't: generally I do not go in for much restoration, preferring to sell a book as is, but I will clean books, re-attach paperback spines, straighten out bumped corners and put dustjackets in protective covers. I have got quite quick at this over the years, but it is still a task that can take the best part of a day, and it's not the most thrilling thing I get to do in my life, particularly if Radio 4 is obliging with one of its more obscure and gloomy plays.

If a book smells musty, I will treat it to my special absorbent granules if the book is worth a reasonable amount - otherwise it goes for re-cycling. If there's any sign of mould, the book will go into the freezer for a month to kill the mould, but I do try very hard not to buy any books with mould (usually I can pick up the smell and reject straightaway). Mould can spread to the rest of your books, and dealing with it, is, in my experience often temporary as even if the mould is killed the smell can re-emerge later.

Once the books are as titivated as they are going to get, they will get a final pricing check, and then I photograph them all - a backbreaker. I do this in stages.

The next stage is to catalogue the books. I always do this in a specific order: author, book title, publisher, year and edition, and then condition grades and a description. One thing I particularly loathe on some bookselling sites is the generic description: "good book" - how do they know? Have they read every book they have? Are they all good? Which argues, if nothing else, a certain lack of objectivity. Or, possibly even worse, "may have inscriptions, markings, creases." Or, presumably, may not, but the seller can't be bothered to check as they are simply interested in shifting units as cheaply as possible: a proper check is a lengthy business, and if you can shift books at 1p a throw on Amazon, and make your money on the postage charge, what's the point? None, I would think, as from their ratings, people are perfectly happy to take the risk.

This has had a knock on effect on what I stock, as I like to do a proper description for everything, but doing it costs money. In many cases, I now simply don't stock the books, as I can't justify the time spent versus what I can ask, so I have less and less children's paperbacks, though I am trying a price-slashing experiment on paperbacks in the coming catalogue. We'll see.

The worst thing about cataloguing is the intriguing things you spot along the way. Why does Goldschmidt view the single-handed groom as a pathetic figure?  Is the book going to suggest one should never employ just one groom, but a whole bunch? Presumably one would never actually help the groom oneself, enlightening his bitter day with your company. I make a mental note to extract Lt Col S G Goldschmidt's Skilled Horsemanship from the pile at some point and find out.

Then there is the obscure pony novel you come across for the first time: Veronica Heath's Ponies In The Heather is obviously something completely different from Frances Murray's Ponies on the Heather, which I also have, in the same collection. How? Why? Who wrote it first? Is Veronica Heath's Come Pony Trekking With Me the title I was told about years ago: a complete scream, but not because the author meant it to be? (It is.) More mental notes get made.

Alas, mental notes is all some of these things are destined to be. Much as I would like to delve into the minutiae of Peter Beckford's instructions on feeding hounds (although I know the practical application to my own life is zero, Peter Beckford being a writer from the dim age before the Labrador was even thought of I still want to know) I must move on, move on, move on.

Another thing that is very often said to me is "How can you bear to sell so many lovely books? Don't you want to keep them?" Of course I want to keep them. If I had my way, Peter Beckford would be sitting on my shelves now, and he would be joined by the splendid 32 colour plated volume of W H Ogilvie's sporting verse, the rather nice Snaffles, and those obscure Veronica Heaths I don't have but want to read - only for the purposes of research of course - and the wartime story Lion's Crouch by Alice Molony with its lovely portrait of an heroic dog....

But I don't. I don't. I do find having to pay the bills concentrates the mind wonderfully, and coming from a good Anglican background as I do, a little (alright, a lot) of denial I think does the soul good. My soul does have to put up with a small amount of acquisition though. Ooone book that will not be appearing in the catalogue is Lucy Rees' Wild Pony.

If Ethel Nokes' That Ass Neddy, with Stanley Lloyd doing a splendid job on the illustrations, doesn't appear in the catalogue, you'll know I succumbed to that too.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

More Snow

Beautiful, and thankfully without that much worry as none of my nearest and dearest are able to get anywhere today. We have to ration milk though: meant to go up to the Co-op at 8 today after I'd done the animals but decided to dog walk and do some work. Shelves bare by the time I did walk up - not a slice of bread; not a jot of milk. "I bet you've seen people you didn't even know existed," I said to one of the assistants. "I didn't know so many people lived in the village," she said.

Having consulted the instruction manual, I have now found the snow setting for the camera, so my efforts were a bit more successful today. Even my very, very untidy garden has had its imperfections blotted out.

Absolutely no sign of the hens venturing out. They have not stirred from the stables. Beautiful though it is, the snow is undoubtedly bleak if you are not that tall.

The hens' paddock.

Repeating my effects here on the dog walk:

I didn't go on my run this morning, for obvious reasons, but ploughing through the snow certainly provided enough of a work out. It was amazingly silent this morning: no background hum from the A45; no cars going along the High Street, and no one about at all. Most dog walkers hadn't walked -

Dog loves the snow, and can find a stick anywhere, even under 6 inches of snow.

The few who had dog walked hadn't got this far. It's years since I've seen snow drifting through the hedge like this:

We then ruined it, of course, by walking on it. I do always feel bad about ruining the perfection.

Heard today

on Radio Northampton this morning, while listening to the litany of jack-knifed lorries and closed schools.

"We have a text from Nick. 'I'm on the A45 and nothing's moving! I want to know why.'

It's the weather, Nick, it's the weather."

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

The Closure of Schools

Margaret Morrissey, of Parents Outloud, thinks that closing schools at the first sign of snow teaches our children to give up easily. "“We are giving children the message that when things get difficult you should just stay at home and have fun..” (I might also add, snidely, that if Margaret Morrissey devoted some time to learning how to use the apostrophe instead of acting as a modern Mrs Gradgrind, it might not be a bad thing.)

It seems a terribly joyless way of viewing the world. Work, work, work and then a bit more work when you've finished. Poor things: whatever one might think of the ease or otherwise of exams now, our children are relentlessly pushed towards them, with more pressure in a year than I experienced in my whole school career. Is it so very terrible to have a day or two off from the grind, and actually enjoy yourself? In something that happens in Britain very, very rarely?

My daughter's maths set have to do their latest test again after they all did terribly badly, and I don't think that's teaching them to give up at the first opportunity. I have to say that as someone who was born a Bruce, I've always been quite keen on the spider fable and all that it stands for and have a distinctly brisk attitude to any child tempted to give up on anything. My children know the spider fable by heart. Robert the Bruce is one of the few Ladybird books we've kept.

And life is not as it was when I was small in the 1960s. Then I was very unusual because I had a working mother. Most mothers were at home. Most teachers lived in the town (see Juxtabook's blog for the reason why most of them don't now). The town then had not had huge housing estates tacked onto it and no-one was that far from the school. There weren't the logistical difficulties that schools face now. My children's school has a huge catchment area: we live 20 miles away, and the school takes children from three counties. However easy it was for the teachers to get there, if it snowed, an awful lot of children who rely on school buses and the train would have found it difficult to get home. Closing the school seemed, to me, to be quite understandable.

In actual fact, mine could have made it in quite easily yesterday, had the school been open, but daughter spent the day in the field with her friends, building Ronald the Snowman (once daughter has downloaded her photos I'll post them), having snowball fights, and gossiping. It's dreadfully ironic actually that daughter spent such a time in the field. When we had our horsy lodgers, I couldn't have dragged her there.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

The Arrangement of Hens

The new hens still don't really have the going-to-bed bit sussed. Pre new-hen, shutting the hens up was a breeze. Popped up to put out corn while it was still light, and then popped up again an hour later; hens on the perch in a Matilda-between-the-bantams sandwich; bolt stable doors and that was that.

Not any more. OH built the new hens their own special perch, which, for a couple of nights they went on. Then Scrabbles, for some reason best known unto only herself, decided that any hen who joined her must be immediately barged off. The three originals found all this most amusing, until the others started joining them on their perch.

Several times I went up to shut the hens up, to find our three waiting for me in a corner of the stable, from where they would shoot out when I appeared, bobbing about with their heads stretching up and down in that henny way which means there's something they really want you to know about. When I looked, their perch was occupied. So, I would carefully remove the intruder hens back to their own perch, giving Scrabbles a firm talking to as I did so, though conscious all the time that though this might make me feel better it was having as much impact on Scrabbles as throwing individual grains of dust at her. I would then shoot out of the door as fast as humanly possible, and whip the light off before anyone could hop off the perch and start creating chaos.

So, yet another perch might be in order, we thought. OH duly constructed another perch, and for a couple of nights all was harmony, as Eponine and Clarrie, who do like to roost together, settled on the new perch, leaving poor Pandora to put up with Scrabbles.

Tonight I am beginning to wonder if nightly hen arrangement is going to be my lot in life. Eponine was in sole possession of the oldie's perch, while they and Pandora wandered about below like lost souls. It's a sort of henny chess, this. Every time we think we have it sorted, they try a new permutation. So, in I went, plonked Eponine next to Clarrie, and persuaded Pandora that Scrabbles was not a fate worse than death.

Poor Pandora. Though Scrabbles might not be intent on her virtue, she's not that kind to her. I am wondering now if I could broker some kind of entente between the old three and Pandora, though ironically enough Scrabbles is the hen with whom they get on best...... I wonder if all this might be a suitable preparation for a late career change to the Foreign Office, though I do wonder quite how I'd put it on my cv.


Glorious sunny day today: I'm doing something wrong with my snow photographs as most of them look distinctly blue - back to the instruction manual I think.

Dog very worried indeed by the snowman, and barked and rumbled at it until we were well out of sight.

The hens have tried eating the snow - not sure why, as their water wasn't frozen, but the newbies at any rate have been pecking at it keenly. The old guard didn't bother, presumably having already worked out its food value was nil.

Children's school is closed today, and picked them up yesterday with no trouble, thankfully, though getting back into our yard, which is on a slope, was interesting. After a bit of careful maneouvering I eventually managed it, though not exactly where I wanted to be. OH thankfully made it home fairly easily. In the last big snow, he was stuck on the M11, though unlike the poor souls who spent the night there, did eventually manage to make it through.