More praise and excerpts:
Further excerpts from and critical praise for selected titles, published and forthcoming:
Reviews in the catalogue proper;
This is where the river is born. Here is the first source of the river that begins as a chalk-stream, beloved of trout and angler alike, garlanded with ranunculus, and that creates an eponymous valley between ridge and down and the Great Chalk Plain, a vale of towns and cornlands, mills and trade and arable land, sheep and cattle: cheese to the surrounding chalk. Here rises the river that named the town – once the county town, but long since decayed to quiet retirement, three county towns ago – the town that named the county; the river that there joins others of its county to form the great afon that broadens and slows as it wends its way out of the shire and through another to the sea, to the sea at the harbour that debouches into the great bay, crowded with shipping, steely with vessels of war, bright with pleasure craft. Thalassa! Thalassa! To the sea, the salt and bitter sea, where all rivers meet at last and lose themselves, the Channel seas, the Narrow Seas of historic renown, of gale and tumult and the thunder of war; there to be reborn as the clouds drive inland once more to the downs, the chalk aquifer, and the rain seeps through to rise in springs at the little coombe farm where the river rises to run yet again and eternally in its cycle to the sea.
Let us follow the river, the rover, the running of the waters.
Sodden clouds, gravid with rain, drive inwards on great gales, from the Bristol Channel to the North-Nor’eastwards, or up from the Channel waters to southwards, it matters not. What matter are the rains. The armada of clouds split their hulls and founder, sinking, their cargo of rain lost and spilling. This is treasure trove.
So you’ve come to the village, to stop for a time; perhaps to be seduced into removing here, far from the rat-race (flat racing, I should imagine, as few rodents really seem built for National Hunt racing), to commute (your innocent faith in First Great Western is touching, if pitiably naïve) or perhaps to retire. And, bless you, it’s all so new to you, and rather perplexing, as you said over a third pint down the Bell (which may explain the perplexity, if I may be frank: you don’t, really, seem used to the local fuddle, and you really want to take the local real ale more slowly than you seem inclined to do). Far be it from me to fail of my duty of explication. Consider me your Vergil; you may make up your own mind, after, whether this be Heaven, or Hell.
*** The footer club and the rifle club, which very well may have its range in the back garden of the pub, God protect us all, do not hibernate at all. If they’re not doing what they do, they’re yarning about it. Over a pint. Or three. Down – it hardly wants saying – the local.
If it’s any time between Advent and February, there shall be panto. Resign yourself to the fact.
The Neighbourhood Watch never sleeps. This is particularly true of old Miss Whosit, who considers this a licence to snoop.
*** If you cannot attend the parish jumble – April, as a rule – and have no good excuse, you may as well pack now and call the removal chaps to bring the pantechnicon, as you now have no future in village life.
There shall be a Pony Club. This is a fact of life. Accept it.
Precisely the same applies to your local Conservative Association. It may well double as the local golfing association.
All of this, of course, will be in the parish magazine, delivered monthly to your door with the usual wild inefficiency eked out with goodwill that is the mark of the voluntary do-gooder.
*** Farms with pick-your-own should be sucked up to, and you want to make friends with the local beekeeper.
And if there are enough hearties to run to a rugger club, do totter (you guessed it) down the local before they do. Bloody bugger’s’ll wreck the place. Again.
Oh – and never forget this most salient of facts. To townies, Thelwell was a caricaturist. We know better: he drew from life.
Reviews in catalogue proper;
Fr Paddick smiled. ‘That’s not the only thing lets you get by with what you get past people, is it.’
‘Now I call that shrewd, Padre. You’re quite right, of course. Extraordinary, the number of people who know I’ve won the Wolfson Prize and the Duff Cooper, and are taken in for all that by the light comedy pose I affect. A reputation for eccentricity – you’re aware, naturally, that that is the term reserved to the rich, the eminent, and the titled: poor people are simply mad, or sectionable – has its uses. You can, for one thing, say what you feel.
‘I imagine that you – and Googly –’
‘Hmm? Oh: Father Pryor. Damn it all, I knew him as a bowler long before I knew him as, or ever he was, a priest: and I was always happy to associate with Keble men, for all that I was up at the House, it was those berks at Balliol and Wadham one didn’t care to be downwind of – where was I? Oh, yes, you and Father Pryor, I imagine, feel I’ve done you no favours in this process. But let me tell you a secret. I never bully anyone who’s not a bully himself. They’re the ones who want having a bit of stick put about – I don’t know if you’ve read Stalky, no one nowadays seems to read Kipling: quite extraordinary – but I go in for moral suasion after the fashion of Number Five study. And of course bullies crumple when confronted. They take it out in whinging that I’m mad, but they daren’t do much more: because they know, in their innermost selves, that any further attention drawn to my criticisms shall only make even more people than already do, say, “Mad he may be, but he’s right about you, is the duke” – and they know I am right. The auditors and bystanders, you’ll note, never say I’m mad. They know I’m – to put it in Grauniad-ista terms – speakin’ truth to power.’
They came ’round a curve between hedgerows, and Fr Paddick caught his breath as the scenery fell away before them: the everlasting downs where Somerset, Dorset, and Wiltshire embraced in grace and gravity; skies haunted by red kite, hobby, and buzzard, and ringing with the skylark’s silver song. In the woods and fields were nuthatch and woodpecker, thrush, goldcrest, and warbler; the linnet and finch, and the fallow deer; the stonechat and the curlew and the nightjar took their ease; and marsh tits made merry by river, stream, and mill. The arable was gentled by the breeze, and in pasture sheep safely grazed, including the prize ducal Wiltshire Horns; and in the dappled shades of Burkean oaks, dairy cattle placidly reposed. The very flowers in the hedgerows spoke of a different country to the browbeaten teasel and wild chicory of Bilston’s nearest fields, in the shadow of industry and the works of man; and on Wolfhill, a chalk horse, cut long ago and as long and lovingly maintained, ramped upon its field of turf.
‘Yes,’ said the duke, with a proprietary air. ‘The Woolfonts. Not a bad little district. Oh – and to draw the threads of my last two points together: you needn’t worry that the so-called team rector – not of my parishes any longer, by God – and wholly uncanonical “canon”, that Potecary woman, ’ll make a play for you: she has two ambitions in this life. Being the first woman to hold, so she’d think, the See … and being duchess of Taunton with it. Ghastly woman, but she’ll lay off you, at least.’
Coming in 2015:
Lady Agatha Prothero-Fane – whose father had commonly been referred to at the Admiralty as ‘Pro-Fane’ by his exasperated superiors and whose uncle the bishop had not infrequently been the subject of Chapter puns ringing the changes upon procul este profani – was rather a distant connexion, although the duke, in a deliberately Cranfordian manner, always hailed her as ‘Cousin Agatha’; and he was enabled to do so regularly enough, Lady Agatha not being concerned to keep her geographic distance however distant their kinship. Despite living, by choice, in the wilds of Wye beyond Builth Wells – largely in order to keep a minatory eye upon the Royal Welsh Show year in and year out, and the Spring Festivals and Winter Fairs thereof: it was of course the Show which most mattered to her, and she was grimly determined that before she died, an event she intended to put off as long as possible, she should by God win her personal trifecta of Supreme Champion Bull, Welsh Cob Senior Stallion, and Poultry, all in the same year for a change – despite living by choice in Wild Wales, she was regular in attendance at events, gatherings, jollifications, and family anniversaries in the Woolfonts, at whatever cost to her purse and her temper (and the nerves of railwaymen for Arriva and FGW, who were known to contemplate a sudden strike whenever they learnt Lady Agatha was boarding). She regarded six or seven hours on a train, first-class or no, as a martyrdom to be endured for the sake of its reward (although the railwaymen might dispute whether it was she or they who was being martyred): particularly as the train from Builth Road to her first change at Cardiff Central stopped, like a dog, at every post and pole from Cilmeri to Pantyffynnon, Llangennech to Bridgend. And so she, naturally, persevered, in the unshakeable conviction that Charles, let alone Rupert, James, and Hetty, not to mention the villagers, were in want of her experience and wisdom, unstoppered vials of which she was ready to pour out – in a voice notably audible even by field standards (she hunted with the Sennybridge Farmers and the Irfon and Towy as seemed best to her) – quite unselfishly, without reserve, and without being asked. Indeed, after being begged to leave off.
Her stumpy, weather-beaten figure, accordingly, enhanced by her attitude towards dress and fashion – Lady Agatha tended to resemble at any distance an animated jumble stall held together by diamond brooches in want of cleaning – was familiar throughout the District by now, and she was tolerated with a grudging affection and a healthy respect.
It was hardly necessary to note that she had rarely missed a fête, or a Christmas, or a birthday for the children. Or the chance to barrack Charles regarding his mastership of the Duke of Taunton’s Hunt and how much better these things were done in Wales. Or, indeed, any opportunity to bring a great light to the people that walked in darkness.
She was really quite extraordinarily like her cousin Charles, in her way.
Coming in 2015:
Servia was, after all, a failed state, a tribe with a flag, in which the Black Hand ruled (whoever might reign in Belgrade), as the ISI runs Pakistan without that government’s by-your-leave. Neither the Romans nor the Byzantines had succeeded in civilising the Balkans; and such small steps as they had made in the attempt had been brushed out and retraced backward to barbarism by centuries of Ottoman occupation.
The French affected to consider Servia a small but civilised – and functioning – state with a fine Gallic air to it. They in fact treated it, hand in glacé glove with the Russians, as a temperate equivalent to the exploitable Congo under the Belgians, with the French as Léopold. With, it may added, the extra attraction that Servia was a market as a well as a productive site for exploitation. Schneider-Creusot there outbid and outfaced Krupp in arms sales to the insatiable and bellicose Servians; French capital invested in railways and works, just as it did in rearming and reformist Russia. The economic interests of France were inherently pro-Servian.
There, then, was one protector upon whom the Servians might call. Russia was at least the other; in fact, Russia was more than a protector.
From the first whispers to reach M Pašić of the Princip cell’s exfiltration from Servia and infiltration of Austro-Hungarian Bosnia, that gentleman had taken such steps as he might. They were not notably effective. Perhaps, as the premier of a failed state, a man brought up in the atmosphere of assassination and conspiracy, M Pašić took these things lightly; but whether he did or no, he was powerless to stop them. The forces of the state answered to Apis, not to him. Although he gave a veiled warning to Vienna – and was forced, trembling, to deny having done so –, he did and perhaps could have done no more. And it was more than his life was worth, after the assassination, to admit to the guilt or the guilty knowledge of the Servian state as a whole.
The Russians, however, also acted throughout as men with something to hide.
Reviews in catalogue proper.