#bookreview Slightly Foxed, Summer issue 2020, no.66 @FoxedQuarterly

I’ve decided to write my review for the Summer issue on a dark rainy day in July 2020. As always I have a pot of tea and for accompaniment I am listening to Thomas Newman’s Passengers score. I find these scores to be both light and intense, bubbling and melancholy and in that way I am transported … to myself. I have been on leave from work this week and whilst some believe it is essential to physically go somewhere during precious time off, I truly believe it is more important to go somewhere mentally. I digress but without recourse – as a nation we are still slowly awakening from our Covid19 virus lockdown that we went into on 23 March 2020. Unlike some I have not been furloughed nor have I lost my job – at the time of writing this I am a Project Lead for NHS England and found myself working harder than ever doing 2 jobs as I had trained for the Regional Incident Coordination Centre. I am immensely grateful for this. I am working from home with my chocolate Cockapoo Mr Dawsey Adams at my side – Lockdown really hasn’t been too shabby and I’m keeping my head down with how much I really appreciated being able to hear birdsong instead of traffic, and enjoying exquisite moments of stillness.

On 1 June 2020 myself and Mr Dawsey Adams ventured to the countryside. We arrived at that place, Dawsey and I, of tea, iced buns and blackberry picking. We walked through the fields of pink clover and yellow buttercups with a bed of butterflies fluttering on the tips of blades of grass. We reached The Tree so named for its perfect shelter from rain or sun, a place to rest and catch our breath. We plowed on to The Bridge where we rested a while sprawling on the grass with Dawsey licking at the ream. This walk today of birds and cows, cow parsley bobbing in the breeze, blue skies and dragonflies, was a joy to cherish – it was as though I had never seen the sky before.

The Slightly Foxed Podcast has been my civilised breakfast companion these past days and it was on one of these mornings I heard the broadcasters talking about this first article (episode 19) written by Sarah Crowden – A Hot-Water Bottle and a Horse. This is the revelation about a lesser known woman Penelope Cherwode, who was a pillar of the Women’s Institute, Daughter of Empire and wife of John Betjeman. Crowden expresses her awe at the way Cherwode conducts her rather unlikely ride across Spain on a “sturdy horse” with grace, dignity and humour throughout this article and as the reader I can’t help but feel both the oddness and familiarity of this adventure across an “unforgiving terrain”, both horse and woman of a certain age, the diary resulting in a book named Two Middle-Aged Ladies in Andalusia (1963).

Brandon Robshaw fuels me with enthusiasm for beginning my journey with Iris Murdoch in his article entitled A Modern Prospero. At the very mention of the first line of The Sea, The Sea, I was sold. Seductive “passages of over-description, stagey scenes, unrealistic over-intellectualized dialogue, plotting whose artifice is all too obvious…” – I stand with open arms. Robshaw divulges another treasure in that Murdoch has a passion for Shakespeare and has peppered her books with allusions to his works, and if these are not reasons good enough to sample any of her twenty-five books then shame on you.

Life among the Ledgers by Pauline Melville has a stirring opener on Dante’s journey into Hell as it tumbles into its subject – that of the nobody ‘clerk’ in any story, those who have “achieved nothing spectacular either good or bad.” I was smitten. I have continuously overlooked these characters. What was I thinking! Melville goes on to present some of what she calls the “futile, the piddling and the paltry” in literature in a warm way that highlights these try-hards as the every man. What a wonderful thought provoking article and I was pleased to see the dear mention of Mr Pooter from The Diary of a Nobody by George Weedon Grossmith as well as Herman Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener. The article brings much humour to the humble clerk and others of this species who are woven throughout many a story but who really don’t do very much at all.

Image from http://www.foxedquarterly.com Cover illustration by Paul Cleden ‘Boats and Coots’

These and many more articles are to be found in the Summer 2020 edition and I can’t recommend enough popping over to the website for the blog and more information. Can I just say that The Notebooks are exquisite…

Thank you to everyone at Slightly Foxed for all of your offerings and for helping me to grow through unlikely books and authors.

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