Thursday, 24 November 2011

Riding equipment

This advertisement, and variations of it, appeared regularly in Riding magazine in the 1940s and 1950s.  I had a quick check through this week's Horse and Hound to see if anything similar appeared, but either the modern man has no such need, or we have gone all coy.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Gardening on the edge has gone completely bung

As has this blog. If you are a regular reader, I am very sorry I haven't been about. All my writing efforts have been directed at my pony book book, which I really, really need to find a title for. The only things I can think of are the really corny, taking a swipe sort like Galloping Hooves - The Pony Book Obsession, or things like It's Awfully Bad Luck on Diana, which my editor tells me means nothing to most people. Well, I say, most people who are going to buy this book will know that poem. Did they not read their Pony Club Annual, for goodness' sake? But I expect she is right, as she certainly has been so far as she has dissuaded me from my besetting sin, which is assuming what I know, everyone else does too. And my second besetting writing sin, which is digressing. Which I am doing now.

So, hauling myself back to the point, which is gardening, or actually not gardening. Slugs.

Slugs are one of those things that continue regardless of what you do in the garden, which is fair enough, as they are after all living creatures and the general point of a species is to survive. Do not fight the slugs - you will not win. Not unless you have unlimited time and funds anyway, in my experience. The wool stuff works, but it costs a bomb, and I can't afford it. Slug pellets my slugs eat as a first course, and then move on to devour my plants. I don't like putting pellets of any sort down anyway, even organic ones, as I like to preserve my hedgehogs and thrushes, and I'm just not consistent enough. I bought some organic slug pellets last year, but only managed to put them down once. I guess you have to be a bit more persistent than this for it to work, and persistence is not in the armoury of the gardener on the edge.

Coffee grounds don't appear to stop slugs in their tracks either. I am simply not going to go out at night with a torch and pick up slugs, or cut them up, or bung them in salt water or whatever else people do. By the time night comes, I have had enough and just want to sit for a bit. I also have a sneaking admiration for a species that's so successful despite all that humanity can throw at it. Attempting to live in harmony with the slugs suits the mixture of laziness and opportunism that is me and the garden.  I therefore let seed stuff I don't have to fight the slugs and snails for, and in the winter salad department, that's rocket (preferably wild); american land cress; chervil, and lamb's lettuce. The one thing I do try in an effort to preserve from slugs is ash from the fire, but this only works as long as the weather's not too wet. Here is a chard plant, which, rather to my surprise, came up in a flower bed. This I think could go either way but the slugs have the edge at the moment.

I did one year grow some other sort of mustard, but that was a complete disaster. Not because the slugs didn't like it - they didn't, but it was so hot, we couldn't get it down either.  I have just remembered my one other anti-snail technique - I sling them over the wall into the graveyard next door. I'm quite sure they all just come back again but it makes me feel better temporarily.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

New stock

I'm doing an offer until 20th November - 10% off all new stock.  Here's a couple of examples:

A lovely copy of the GGB edition of one of Monica Edwards' best, once again hard to find - £70, and below a very good early Puffin ponies plus adventure story, £4.00.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Gardening on the edge: lamb's lettuce

It is with a huge phew that I write this post, waving to the other gardeners on the edge out there. I had visions when I wrote the post of some dismissive comments about my efforts - though actually, I suppose if you were any good, you would move swiftly on and ignore, and that suits me fine.

I've been thinking a lot about my gardening efforts since my first post, and I do have a few principles. Earlier today I went and photographed my vegetable patch so I could show you what I do, and my first thought was that I should trim the flowers off my rocket plants, but then I thought, heck, if it weren't for the photos I just wouldn't, so I left them. Who am I trying to kid? This is my patch:

There is an awful lot of green, but that is because a lot of it is weed. It's not that large (I have to confess that I have a couple of other patches but they are even worse and I am going to have to work up to showing the full horror on screen).

At first, I thought I'd mention the general principles on which I garden, because there actually are some. I have of course tried to succeed without them, and no doubt still will. Quite often with me hope triumphs over experience, as you will probably see a. if you follow what I'm up to, and b. I keep on telling you about it.

Something on which I batten quite a bit of hope is the generosity of other gardeners.

Principle 1. Acquire some local friends who really can garden. I am lucky in that I have several of these. They have beautiful gardens, and years of experience (so do I have years, but my years have not been useful years as theirs have). They know what I am up against in terms of climate and soil conditions as theirs are thereabouts the same. They do not mind when I moan about my gardening disasters, and they give me the benefit of their years of experience. One of the most useful things I learned was from a brilliant gardener (I mean really brilliant - he propagated auriculas). Shortly after we moved in I was complaining that not one of my lambs' lettuce seedlings had germinated. This, he said, was because I planted it in May. But that's what it said on the packet, I said. Makes no difference, he said. Lamb's lettuce is a short daylight crop, and it germinates only when the days get shorter. He was absolutely right. I sowed lamb's lettuce in August; it came up in August, and it has been with me ever since.  I let it self seed and it comes up on its own every year. It comes up in some odd places, and I have been known to pick our winter salad out of the gravel path in the front of the house, but it's salad, and it's there.

Here's a horribly congested collection of seedlings (as well as a few other things I can't identify) and which I really should thin out, but haven't.

None of my gardening friends, and my sister, who have kindly provided me with numerous raspberry plants, have been able to  help with my efforts there, alas. More on those soon.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Reviews: Sheena Wilkinson, Mary Finn and Emily Edwards

Emily Edwards - The Trouble with Being a Horse
Single Stride Publishing
Around £4.00 on Amazon
Emily Edwards' website

I tend to shy away from reviewing self-published books, after a particularly bad experience with one, and so when the author of this one got in touch with me my first reaction was to think thanks, but no. However, the author sent me a link to her first chapter, and I read it and was intrigued. Yes, I said. Please do send me a copy.  So, a week or so later the book, arrived, fresh from Canada.

The common theme with all the books I'm reviewing today is that the authors have managed to find a new angle on the pony story. The Trouble with Being a Horse is Emily Edwards' first novel, and it is the story of Olivia,  forbidden to ride. After a fall from her favourite horse at the local riding stables, she loses consciousness, and when she wakes up, finds that she has turned into a horse: a chestnut mare. When a child (and occasionally, I admit it, even now) I often used to pretend to be a horse, and would half pass my way across the playground, or do a fine extended trot along the street. (For those who are worried about the spectacle of someone nearly 50 doing this, I now restrict myself to an extended walk). Most children with a pony obsession pretend to be a horse, but it really happens to Olivia.

Emily Edwards does a good job of exploring what it would be like if this really, and truly happened to you.  Olivia still has fully human reactions still, and so we see her battling with attempting to fit in with her new equine world. She is a horse, but doesn't know how to be one; but as a human she was struggling to fit in with her family. She doesn't really fit in anywhere, and it is Olivia's growing awareness of this, and attempts to deal with it, that lend the book a real spark. Some of the language is occasionally a little awkward, but overall, this is an intriguing first novel.

Mary Finn - The Horse Girl
Walker Books, £6.99

The Horse Girl  is set in 18th century Lincolnshire, and is the story of wheelwright's son, Thomas, the girl Ling, and Stubbs. Stubbs is one of the main reasons this book leapfrogged others to the top of the to be reviewed pile.  I have been a Stubbs fan since the day I found a very used copy of his Mares and Foals as a stamp. Thomas is a failure at the local grammar school: he is, as we now know with 21st century hindsight, dyslexic. Thomas meets Ling, desperate to find a horse she knows Stubbs has bought, and which she thinks he will butcher in order to study its anatomy. They discover that Stubbs is not the brute they had imagined, and Stubbs looks set to become part of Thomas' future, employing him as an apprentice. Ling, however, is set on finding her horse, Belladonna.

I found this a deeply frustrating book.  The first half, I lapped up. It is when the book is dealing with Stubbs, and with Thomas and his family, that it is at its most impressive.  The description of how Stubbs goes about his work is enthralling, together with the gradual flowering of Thomas' abilities as he begins to discover how he can use his talents.

It was when the book took off in a pell mell charge after Ling and her desire to find the horse Belladonna, after finding that she has been sold on, that the book lost me.  Ling is the almost obligatory feisty teenage girl, determined to cast off the shackles that confine the 18th century woman, and go her own way. Ling I simply didn’t find as fascinating as Thomas. I enjoyed the small things the book focussed on in the first half; Thomas’ sister Nan; the family’s meals, and the details of how a wheelwright worked.

Mary Finn has written two books: an excellent exploration of Stubbs, and the problems of being dyslexic in a time when your condition was condemned as stupidity, and a love and adventure story which lacks the sure touch of the first half. If Mary Finn had concentrated throughout the book on Stubbs and Tom, I would I am quite sure have been recommending this book as one of my reads of the year. She has the atmosphere off incredibly well; Tom is is an absolutely believable character. The detail about Stubbs is fascinating, and that is what I wanted more of. [The sensitive should beware: Finn goes into reasonably graphic detail about Stubbs' methods of discovering the horse's anatomy, which involved peeling a horse's dead body back layer by layer].

Ling I found almost an irrelevance: I could quite see that she would seek desperately for her horse, but her career as an instructor to the wealthy I found harder to credit, and it is difficult to feel much sympathy for a character when you are heartily wishing the hero would dump her and get back to Stubbs and something genuinely fascinating. Teenage love stories are ten a penny, but an exploration of an artist's methods and psyche are not.   So, please buy this book, and read the first half, because it is very, very good. I do not normally go off the deep end, and rave, but about the first half of this book, I do. It is fantastic. Approach the second half, however, with caution.

Sheena Wilkinson:  Taking Flight
Little Island, £8.99
An interview with Sheena Wilkinson

Taking Flight is set in Belfast; rare for a pony book, and has a male and a female heroine, also rare.  Vicky is the daughter of divorced parents, and she is a tad entitled. Her parents to a certain extent tiptoe around her and her wants, though she is lucky in that the divorce seems amicable, and that she gets on with her stepmother.  Vicky has a cousin, Declan, for whom life is radically different. His father is dead, and his mother is an alcoholic. Declan's school career is disastrous. Vicky and Declan's paths finally cross when his mother is hospitalised after a particularly grim alcoholic episode, and Declan goes to stay with Vicky. Vicky is a keen rider, and is determined to win on her expensive show jumper, Flight. Declan, at first, wants nothing to do with Vicky or her horse, but finds himself falling under the spell of the horse.

It is very unusual that in pony book world a boy falls under the spell of a horse. Sheena Wilkinson does a fine job of showing Declan's ambivalence about this skill he suddenly finds he possesses.  From a boy with no future other than a rapid descent into crime, Declan is presented with a way forward, but it is not one he is necessarily eager to take. It would be too simplistic a fairy tale were Declan to progress effortlessly to horsy success, and he does not. Vicky is furiously jealous of Declan's abilities, and resentful of his arrival into her life, and takes action on her dislike. Sheena Wilkinson succeeds in making Vicky's very brattish behaviour believable, but still keeps you on her side.  Indeed the strength of this very good book is that you are on both characters' sides: however horrible their behaviour is.

Declan's school is very well done too: both the teachers who have written Declan off, and those who keep on and on trying with him, convinced that he can be set on a better path. The other adults convince. This is a real world.

My only very minor quibble with this book was wondering if the ending was just a little too pat: the characters have been redeemed, and their efforts rewarded. I wonder if Vicky's boyfriend would have been quite so ready to take her back ; I think she was lucky there. But this is a minor quibble. Taking Flight is a fine read, and one which will be swallowed in a sitting by any teenager who is even remotely interested in the horse.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Gardening on the edge

I haven't done a gardening post for ages, mainly because I haven't done any gardening. That is not to say my world has been entirely garden-free. I do like watching gardening programmes, and I do like the gardening articles in the weekend press.  They show an ordered and productive world which I wish was mine. All those lovely neat rows of vegetables, and pruned and cared for herbaceous borders.

When we first moved here 12 years ago, I had masses of time. I worked three days a week for what then was a pretty fair sum of money, and the other two days were mine to do as my daughter and I wished. She was young and eager then, so we did a lot together, and we did a lot of gardening. The pride and joy of my life was my vegetable garden, carved out of what used to be a dog yard.  It was just like all those ones you see on television programmes. When I put my fork in to dig out my potatoes, it was a profoundly satisfying time: masses of them. Just masses.

Life is no longer as it was 12 years ago.  I now work for a lot less than the minimum wage as a bookdealer, and although I've been commissioned to write a book, it is not going to make me shedloads of money. My daughter is not, these days, much of a help in the garden. The garden now is simply a transit area between the house and her next social engagement.

I do still garden. Growing our own is now a vital part of keeping going. Growing your own though, as the gardening programmes and books would have you do it, takes shedloads of time. In order to keep my not quite minimum wage going, and write aforesaid book, I need time, and the garden therefore doesn't get it. I can't say that I've worked out an ideal solution to this, because I haven't, but I have sort of got one.

A while back my sister and her other half came to visit, and I took them for a wander through the nettles to see my onions and garlic, which meant a dodge through the parsnip forest. Tim looked at the forest and said, "Gardening on the edge is what you do, isn't it?"

Well, yes it is. Gardening the way I have to do it is a combination of doing as little as you possibly can, and working with what you've got. It is being relentlessly opportunist and putting up with things that are less than ideal.  I did hope that maybe there were other gardeners out there who also gardened on the edge, but when I googled, to the proper gardener, gardening on the edge appears to be making a success out of a hostile growing environment (which I suppose is what I do, in a way, only the hostile bit is me), or growing plants that aren't really suited to your climate.

I am hoping that there actually are other gardeners out there like me: doing everything really rather badly but somehow managing to produce something at the end of it. It would be lovely to share experiences.

I won't do an incredibly regular series of blogs on this subject, for the reasons above, but I think I can manage to do one on the gardening on the edge approach to winter salad within the next couple of days.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Janet Rising on What Not to Wear

Welcome to Janet Rising, editor of PONY magazine, with a guest post.

What do you wear when you ride? Sounds a silly question, perhaps. Upon writing this it became clear that planning my riding attire has, throughout my life, occupied far too much of my time.

When I first started to ride at the tender age of nine I was desperate to wear the right clothes. Problem? I couldn’t afford any. I can remember the excitement of buying a riding hat – black velvet, elastic chin strap, probably got change from thirty bob – from a sports shop, and I know I didn’t sleep for excitement the night before. We’re talking the time when jodhpurs were slimming down from the Bedford cord, elephant-ear design, and riding slacks were all the go. Jacatex adverts were poured over and outfits planned. No matter that the jackets – a fraction of what you would pay elsewhere for the same quality – were too short to be elegant and dropped vertically from under the sleeves, disguising any imagined waist you might have. Pile on the black and navy show jackets inconveniently receded before going completely bald. I know this because my friend Jan wore hers to the stables practically on a daily basis and everyone in our riding gang observed warps and wefts coming to the fore as the seasons passed, the cloth flecked by white hair shed from the school ponies. I think that was why I plumped for tweed. No wonder the adverts only ever featured an artist’s impression. 

One very smart livery owner at the stables turned up one day in the height of equestrian fashion, a belted hacking jacket in rather loud tweed, pleated front and back, an experiment in riding design which was outside my budget and didn’t last for long. We all looked on enviously, oblivious to the sad fact that had we been so clad, we would resemble something the feed merchant would dump by the oat bins. Oooo, but I did buy one of those gorgeous Harry Hall black show jackets, with a velvet collar and piping up and down the back. Years later I sold it to a friend, just prior to spotting someone far more stylish than I wearing the very same over a basque whilst out clubbing, and I instantly regretted not having had the imagination to keep it to wear with jeans and a frilly blouse, a la Spandau Ballet.

Aaaaaanyway, as a teenager things changed. Correctness was recklessly overtaken on the outside by cool. At least, our definition of cool. Levis replaced jodhpurs and, as this was the seventies, they were straight-legged. This wouldn’t do. Reluctant to spend riding money we cut triangles from discarded curtains to insert into the outside seams from the knees down, transforming them into bell-bottoms, and many a happy evening was spent painstakingly tweezering out horizontal threads to fringe the ends. This was after you’d worn your Levis was in the bath, shrinking them to fit, to the disgust of your parents. These were then topped by the dubious fashion of a smock top, adorned with badges of whichever pop star was currently favoured – Alice Cooper, in my case. Excuse my misty (blackened) eyes.

What an absolute sight we must have looked.

 When I left school and worked with horses I wanted to look the part. Shirts, ties, hats – even when dismounted and teaching – became my uniform. Everyone knows that the football manager look never suited anyone, not even football managers, but even so sheepskin coats and long leather boots were de rigueur, simply because quilted clothing hadn’t been invented. Except for those paper-thin, cord collared Husky jackets in green or navy. That was your choice – country tones of green or navy. No pink. No purple. Brown was considered racy, the equestrian equivalent of an ankle bracelet. I led winter rides in my hacking jacket and yellow string gloves, froze at the back of rides, sandwiched between blue-faced children atop fluffy, lead-reined ponies on either side, unable to tell whether I was holding the reins or a discarded, frostbitten finger, icy winds whipping my hair and my horse’s tail, rising to the trot without stirrups just to coax some feeling back in the blocks of ice I called my feet.

Then, suddenly, the horsey world discovered colour. Whoopie dah! Instantly I purchased a maroon show jacket and got my hat covered in matching cloth – you can’t teach this girl anything about sartorial elegance (obviously). Matching jackets and hats in plum, brown, grey and green were IT, and the only colour for jodhpurs, darling, was what could only be described as butter. 

I got a bit carried away. When the washing machine transformed my soft suede strappings into Pringles I unpicked them and replaced them with some grey fabric I had handy (once I’d dried my tears and pulled myself together). Then, when the joddies themselves started to look like the before-whites in the Persil ads I dyed them black. Only they came out charcoal, and the home-made strappings didn’t take the dye but they still looked okay. Well, passable. So I did the same with another pair, only in green. This was when jodhpurs only existed in various shades of white/buff/yellow. I know, I’m such a rebel.

Now there is no need for the Dylon – there are hundreds, if not thousands of clothing items on which to spend our money. We have Gore-tex and breathable fabrics and lightweight quilts. Everyway-stretch Cath Kidson jodhpurs, down coats and storm-proof collars. Lined boots with zips up the back so you can get them on and off without giving yourself a hernia, and reinforced socks. The only hardship is making up your mind which ones to go for.

It’s exhausting, it really is. Excuse me, I’m just off to fringe a pair of jeans because some things don’t change, even when they should.