Friday, 25 February 2011

Beware the bored bookdealer

Inspired by this video, I am training my stock.  I can see a musical effort at Olympia beckoning.   Alas the KP Perfect Pony collection will not co-operate because of my refusal to allow each book to wear a hand-built Swarovski bookmark, but the rest are coming along very nicely, very nicely indeed.


Thursday, 24 February 2011

Review: Michael Morpurgo - Not Bad for a Bad Lad

Michael Morpurgo:  Not Bad for a Bad Lad
Templar, £9.99

Michael Morpurgo's website.

There a couple of authors about whom I lose all sensible distance when I pick up their books, and Michael Morpurgo is one of them.  Add to this the fact that I am really quite silly about the Suffolk Punch, which my mother can remember being used on the family farm, and you have a recipe for me to start blethering on in a totally uncritical manner.

Not Bad for a Bad Lad follows the model Morpurgo used in Farmer's Boy, where a grandfather tells his grandson about his history.  Both books are stories of problems overcome, and recounted from a position of reasonably serene old age.  The hero of Bad Lad starts off loud and boisterous, is labelled trouble at school, and continues in trouble until his burgling career goes wrong and he is put in Borstal (Borstal being a precursor of the Young Offender Institution, with the emphasis being on redemption through work).  The Suffolk Borstal the hero is sent to, at Hollesley Bay, also happens to be home to the last remaining stud of Suffolk Punch horses.  Our hero is intrigued by the horses, and sure enough, the obvious happens, and through the love of a good horse his life is turned around.

Being Michael Morpurgo, this process is not a sentimental wallow.  He writes a good horse, and a realistic villain.  Although the horses do set the bad lad on the path of righteousness, he is cast adrift when he emerges from Borstal, and becomes homeless.  A chance encounter with army horses in a park later, and his life is set fair.  The process isn't sugar sweet:  his relationship with his mother never does recover.  Although he does marry, his wife says:

"Sometimes she says I still love Dombey more than I love her, which is not true.  But it's a close thing."


The book is that rearest of creatures, an illustrated book aimed at someone who's older than five. I suppose this is only justified because Morpurgo is such a major seller: it's illustrated throughout in colour by Michael Foreman.   I am not the hugest fan of his horses, which are a tad too stylised for my tastes, but the people and backgrounds perfectly capture the story.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Book Sale

I'm clearing old stock, so have a look here if you'd like to pick up some cheap pony fiction.  Hardbacks are £1.50, and paperbacks are 50p each, or 3 for £1.00; all plus postage.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

You still think and feel, even when you're old

It is not often that I write a blog out of pure passion, or that I feel I have to write a piece before I do anything else, but I have just spent the last 30 minutes or so listening to discussions on Radio 4's Today on the Ann Abraham's report on the treatment of the elderly in the NHS.  None of it makes remotely comfortable listening.  Various of the great and the good have been trotted on to give their opinion; less bureaucracy, more humanity appears to be the general consensus.  Professor Raymond Tallis asked:

"What enables a nurse to walk past somebody dying of dehydration?"

Well, I think I can answer that from what I have seen in my own village over the past week or so.  It is a complete and utter inability to recognise that the elderly exist as human beings; that they are the same as you are. That they think, breathe, and feel.

I have an elderly friend who was the first person to arrive on my doorstep when we arrived in the village.  I love her dearly, and she has been a wonderful friend to me.  Now her memory is rapidly failing, and she is finding it more and more difficult to get about the village.  Last week I walked round our local Co-op with her.  Our Co-op is not the largest shop in the world, and the aisles aren't stupendously wide.  In the same aisle as us was a young mother with her baby in a buggy.  My friend realised the young mother was there, and moved out of her way.  This takes her a little while, as she can't move fast, and needs a stick.  She turned round to smile at the young mother and say something to her.

She was completely and utterly blanked.  And the thing that gets me, the thing that really really upsets me, is that I was watching this young mother, as I was holding my friend's basket and waiting for her, and not even for one second did it occur to this her to wait for my friend to finish what she was doing.  It didn't occur to her to smile at my friend; or talk to her, it didn't even occur to her to look at her.  She was inconvenient and should get out of the way.  It was an utterly chilling example of cold indifference to someone else's existence, and I could have wept when I saw the look on my friend's face.

I was so furious I could have slapped this unfeeling, unsympathetic witch, concerned only with the great god Baby and herself, but I made some flip remark to my friend and tried to inject a little humour.  And you know what really makes me want to weep, wail and hit the wall?  The self same thing happened round the corner.  Different mother; different baby, but the self same thing.

One day, they'll be old.  I'm rather older than either of these mothers and therefore closer to my friend's state, so perhaps it's easier for me to sympathise.  The better bit of me hopes that something; anything makes this attitude change; makes people recognise people's humanity and look past their decay.  The worst bit of me hopes that one day when both those girls are old, that some last dinosaur example of what is then an utterly unacceptable prejudice treats them the same way, just so they know what it's like, and I hope it makes them think back to  how they behaved when they were young and I hope it makes them sorry.  And I should add that I should keep any eye on my own behaviour too, and never think that what I do is good enough.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Prevarication - Antonia Forest

I think the number of times I post is often directly related to how much I am putting off what I know I should be doing.  So, with that in mind, if there are any other fellow Antonia Forest fans out there, here is a link to some fanfic.  I am now going to be good and get back to what I should be doing.  If anyone has read any and has a favourite, please do say in the comments and I can then cut out at least one layer of prevarication (if prevarication has layers, which I think for the sake of argument I shall say it does) by going straight to your recommendations.  There.  That's been another 5 minutes.  Back to the grindstone.

Interesting stuff I've read recently

Horses powered steamboats - who knew?  Can't imagine it was a lot of fun for the horse.

World Book Night is coming up on March 5th.  Good idea or not?

Cloud of the month at the Cloud Appreciation Society is a stunner.  I spend more time than I ought staring at clouds out of the window, but I've never seen anything like this.

How covers come to be:  DIY iceberg.

Friday, 11 February 2011

The Swiss roll

Now that the hens are laying again, I am starting to focus on recipes that use up a decent amount of eggs.  Swiss roll only uses 3, but it's a start.  Daughter and I made an excursion into baking (or at least she did - I directed operations).

Here is a rather squint photograph of daughter doing the prescribed 10 minutes whisking.

When I did domestic science at school (which is what cookery was then called), Swiss roll was one of the things we had to do.  Of course, we had to do it all by hand, and I have bitter memories of my failure to beat the mixture enough, meaning my Swiss roll was a flat and rubbery failure.  I wrote that one down to experience, thinking I'd never have to do it again.

At the end of each academic year, we did exams in each and every subject, including DS.  We had to cook something we'd done that year.  Miss Reed, the DS teacher, would write down the names of everything we'd done, put them in a hat, and we would draw one out.  You can guess which one I drew out, can't you?  "Oh Jane," said Miss Reed.  "It would be you." Giggle, giggle, went the rest of the class.  The iron entered my soul at that point.  I was determined I was going to do a half way decent Swiss roll.  I went home and subjected my long suffering family to numerous attempts, and I finally got it right and produced one they would actually eat (the dog had no qualms about any of my attempts but alas he was not marking the exam).  The exam came and went, and the Swiss roll was a success, by my standards at any rate.  I have never made one since.

Here is daughter's attempt, set off by some very unseasonal strawberries.

We did have a little local difficulty with the rolling bit, which it took us both to achieve, and even the unseasonal strawberries couldn't obscure the cracks.  Anyway, I have passed on a skill.  Sort of.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

The Stallion's Tail

I am posting this picture because I am intrigued about it, and haven't yet been able to find out whether the practice was common or not.  The picture below was sent in to Riding Magazine in the 1930s by Rupert Isaac of Ipswich, and shows a stallion's tail attached to a cottage in the village of Kersey.

Isaac wrote: "....its meaning to the villagers is plainer than any signboard; for when your horse goes lame or your cow has colic, you seek the stallion's tail -- the device of the veterinary surgeon.  When the first tail was hung out is a matter for conjecture, but the "horse doctor" was one of the earliest craftsmen, and Kersey is old indeed..."

There is a photograph from 1956 in the National Archives which shows, it says, the farrier's trademark of a horse's tail on a house in Kersey.  Don Lemon was the local horse doctor in Kersey during the 1940s - he had no veterinary qualifications, but his house was marked by a horse's tail, according to an article in The Independent, 23 January 1993 about the sale of some houses in Kersey.   A more recent advertisement for a holiday cottage in the area mentions a fox's tail: whether the original is now so matted that's what it looks like, or whether the tail has been changed and no one now remembers what it ought to have been I do not yet know.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Review: Sweet Running Filly - Pat Johnson & Barbara van Tuyl

Pat Johnson & Barbara van Tuyl - Sweet Running Filly
Poppet Press, 2010.  £7.00

Information on the authors

The much loved Bonnie series has now been reprinted by the Poppet Press, an offshoot of Somerset Sport Art. A proportion of the proceeds are being donated to Thoroughbred charities, although the one mentioned on their website, Standing in the Gap, has now closed.   I asked Poppet Press who they were currently supporting, and this is their reply:
Currently, we are planning special events that will benefit individual charities in that area and are searching for charities to support. In the past we have done events with The Florida TB Fillies and Horses N Heroes of Marion County will be selling the books to benefit their charity this year.  
Sweet Running Filly is another book I've had hanging around for a while, but I finally got round to reading it at the end of last week.  I feel like I'm now going to criticise someone's beloved child, as I know how loved this series is in the USA.  Although I liked the book,  I felt curiously short changed by it.  The beginning is really strong:  I loved the father and daughter relationship, and their unorthodox way of earning a living, and I lapped up the episode where the filly is rescued.

Oh brilliant, I thought.  There's so much in this relationship between father and daughter; the writing is wonderful; there's all sorts of places this story can go!  And what happens?  The filly is rescued, and the father virtually disappears from view until the end of the book.  Action switches to a local racing stable, and a fairly conventional mystery - will the filly's true identity be revealed?  And what happened to bring her to the miserable wreck she was when Julie found her?  It isn't that this is in any way badly done, because it isn't.  It isn't that I didn't believe in the characters, because I did.  From the quality of the beginning of the story, I expected something to rival K M Peyton's Fly-by-Night, but sadly, this book wasn't it.  I wonder if it's something to do with the book's dual authorship:  perhaps one of them was keener on character and the other on the racing side?

I would happily read the first few chapters over and over again:  they are a seriously good piece of writing.  There are four more books in the series, and I'd like to read them.  Maybe I'd be able to approach those for what I expect they are:  good, believable stories about a girl, her horse, and racing.

A last word on the text: as regular readers will know, I am keen on published texts being accurate.  This book has presumably been printed from a scanned copy of the original, and unfortunately this has left it littered with errors.  If the Press reprints, employing a decent proof reader would be an excellent idea.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

What I listen to in my time off

Aaahh, ahhhh, bah bah bah bah bah. I love it. Thanks to Karen Dent for reminding me it existed.

Monday, 7 February 2011

The wedding horse

This I think lends a whole new dimension to plaiting.  Were I ever to get married again (though I've done it twice and any more I think would start to look careless) I'd angle to have a horse with those plaits. They're brilliant.  They're by local florist Foxtail Lilly.

Thanks very much to Tracey Mathieson for permission to use the picture.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

A round up

A few blog posts I've enjoyed recently:

Friday, 4 February 2011

Library Day of Action - Read Ins

The British Library is under threat as never before.  Our local village library is under threat of closure, along with seven others in the county.  The council's aim seems to be to concentrate resources in the towns, and assume that most village inhabitants will be able to get to towns if they want to visit libraries.  When this is allied with the prospective complete cut in the council's subsidy for rural buses, one wonders.  

Tomorrow, February 5th is Library Read-in Day.  Voices for the Library has details of events in many libraries.

Irchester Library is holding its own read in from 11.00am until 1.00pm.  If you're in any way local, it would be great to see you there.  Other local libraries supporting the Read-in are Roade and St James.

Reviews: Linda Chapman - Dreams and Amy Brown - Jade and the Stray

Amy Brown:  Jade and the Stray
HarperCollins, New Zealand, 2010
book two (Jade at the Champs) is available on Kindle.  Jade and the Stray doesn't appear to be buyable in the UK.
Information about the author on HarperCollins

Linda Chapman:  Dreams
Puffin, 2011, £5.99
Linda Chapman's website

I am ashamed of how long it has taken me to review these books, particularly Amy's which sank without trace in my office,  - to be accurate, not completely without trace, as it resurfaced when I had an reorganisation and major tidy up recently.

It wasn't intentional, but I found the books I planned to read for this review both give their main character the same basic background:  relocation after the death of parents.  Ellie's parents are dead, and she has had to leave her home in Australia and come to England to live at her uncle's showing stable.  Jade's mother and grandmother were killed in a car crash caused by her father's speeding, and she has come to live with her grandfather (though still in the same country - New Zealand) while her father is in prison.

I was left puzzled by Amy Brown's Jade and her reaction to her father.  I can believe that she'd forgive him for causing the crash, but I'm surprised that the only thing that worries Jade once her father returns is where they're going to live:  if it's back to town, she'll have to give up her pony.  Wouldn't there be at least some conflict of emotions there?  Jade has been left motherless through her father's lethal stupidity.  Surely she'd at least think about it occasionally, and it would cause her more problems than it appears to?  On a Google search for information on the book and author, I came across some teaching materials prepared by HarperCollins on the book.  It's rather telling that there's no suggestion that the book's readers discuss how you cope with the fact your father has been responsible for the death of your mother and grandmother.  Maybe this theme is developed in the next book in the series.

Jade's initial sense of bewilderment and loss is touched on at the beginning of the book, but once she spots the pony, and rescues it from the pound, it's as if the author breathes a sigh of relief and concentrates on what she really wants to write about:  ponies.  That said, I enjoyed the pony elements in the book.  The author is obviously a keen fan of the pony book, as several (including Ruby Ferguson's Jill) get namechecks.  Jade's pony Pip is well drawn.  The book follows the usual plot of girl getting pony and being taught how to care and ride for it, with several ups and downs along the way.  Where this author scores is in the care she takes with putting over how to care for your pony.  She doesn't fall into the trap of beating the reader around the head so that she feels shell-shocked with instructions rather than immersed in the story.  The information the book has to share (and there's a lot) is lightly imparted.  As a conventional pony book, the story succeeds: it's a pity it doesn't explore more deeply what is going on in its heroine's psyche but maybe that's yet to come.

Linda Chapman's Loving Spirit series is now two books in:  I reviewed the earlier book last year.  After reading the first book, I admit I approached number two with trepidation, wondering how, or if, the proto-romance between Ellie and her cousin Joe was going to develop.  If it concerned you too, worry not.

Linda Chapman's heroine comes from a similar background to Amy Brown's, but Linda Chapman does touch on her heroine's grief throughout the first book.  It's not left out in the second book, but we can see that Ellie is beginning to learn how to cope.  The author has a sure touch with her teenagers:  I didn't for a second find what they did unbelievable.  I am still intrigued by the relationship between Joe and his father; Linda Chapman hints at there being a cause to the distance between them, which I hope is going to be developed in book three because I am itching to find out.

Dreams is I think Linda Chapman's best book to date.  I love the showing background; I enjoyed the plot, which looks at the stresses and strains of surviving when showing is your livelihood.  The yard's sponsor has bought a splendid new horse for Ellie's uncle to produce, but although Lucifer behaves well initially, his behaviour deteriorates, with dramatic and tragic repercussions.  The interplay between the characters is always interesting; they're deftly drawn and I get the impression the author enjoys them.

My one quibble is Spirit, Ellie's horse.  They can talk to each other, and Spirit gives Ellie advice, although in true and pigheaded teenage fashion she sometimes misinterprets it and sails off down her own path.  In the first book, Spirit emerged as a real horse; in this it's as if Spirit's words of wisdom have become the only reason for him to be there.  He seems to have lost what makes him a horse in this book.  Ellie's talks with Spirit tend to start with her going to visit him in his stable:  it's almost as if she's visiting him in his temple.  Maybe Spirit needs to get it wrong sometimes, or be jealous, or perhaps kick someone.  Just be a horse.

That said, the advice that Spirit gives Ellie on how to cope with horses (look - listen - learn!) is absolutely spot on and I was mentally cheering Ellie from the sidelines as she wrestles with helping the horses on the yard.  Whatever the origin of the advice, the way it's worked out is entirely believable.  Roll on book three.

Thanks to the author and publisher for sending me these books.