Monday, 18 January 2016

In which I fail to get on Norwegian TV

Walking home at top speed (because it is cold, and I am cold) a bearded chap with a sensible hat and a camera on a tripod (Canon, expensive) stops me. Do I have time, he says, to answer a few questions for Norwegian TV? I am an obliging sort so I say yes. Ask chap where he is from – Oslo. I know Oslo. Make swift mental note that have been to Oslo sculpture park, which is the only Oslo fact a brain fresh from dealing with proofreading since 0700 can come up with. Who knows whether or not this little nugget of experience might come in handy?

Make further mental scramble to work out what Norwegian TV might be asking about if it's not the sculpture park, and while he is fiddling with camera and we are both avoiding someone intent on running down anyone in their way with their mobility scooter, plump for EU and our forthcoming referendum and marshal what I hope will be sparkling British opinions, fresh from the East Midlands, on my view on the EU. (Stay in, if you’re interested.)

Interviewer: You live in Kettering?

Internal me: Easy one to start with.
Me: Yes.

Interviewer: And what is Kettering famous for?

Internal me: God – what? Shoes? Is anyone in Norway interested in Kettering’s long ago and now sadly defunct place in the shoe industry? Probably not.
Me: I’m really not sure.
Internal me: HELP ME HERE.

Interviewer: Do you like football?

Internal me: Are you kidding? I make active efforts to avoid it.
Me: Not my thing, I’m afraid.

Interviewer: Did you know Kettering has a football team?

Internal me: Yes, but what has that to do with anything?
Me: Yes.

Interviewer: Do you know how they’re doing?

Internal me: Look, I said football isn’t my thing. I have no idea. I have no idea how any team is doing. Is it so badly Norwegian TV have heard of it? 
Me: Absolutely no idea, I’m afraid.

Interviewer: Do you know what they’re famous for?

Internal me: Absolutely not a clue. 
Me: Absolutely not a clue.

Interviewer: Did you know they were the first team to have a sponsored shirt, 40 years ago?

Internal me: WTAF? I mean, what? 
Me: Gosh, no.

Interviewer: Thanks, that was brilliant.

Head off on my way. Once across the road, I turn round and the interviewer is still where I left him, asking someone else to stop. I think we both hope that this time, he’s found someone who has a bit more idea about the great and glorious history of Kettering football than me. 

Friday, 25 December 2015

Christmas Day 2015

Patricia Leitch died earlier this year. She wrote one of the best ever pony series with the Jinny books, and book eleven, Horse of Fire, has one of the most magical Christmas scenes in a children's book. This post is dedicated to Patricia with thanks for the many presents she gave the world through her books.

Jinny and Shantih are appearing in the local nativity play. Jinny has fine and splendid dreams about how she and Shantih will appear as glorious king and even more glorious horse, but when the moment comes, it's not like that at all. Jinny is cast into utter misery by the rude disconnect between her dreams and reality, but then, as they're leaving, a little boy stops and stares up at Shantih.

"The little boy stared up at Shantih, his eyes wide with tiredness and excitement. 'I saw them,' he stated stubbornly. 'It was the golden wings it had.' 'You're right,' said Ken, speaking directly to the little boy. 'I saw them too.' 'Filling his head with such nonsense,' snapped the woman, but the child's face lit up as he smiled at Ken. 'You see,' said Ken, as they watched the little boy being dragged away. 'It is always worthwhile. All his life he'll remember Shantih's golden wings. Tell his grandchildren about them.' A surge of gratitude lifted through Jinny. It had all been worthwhile - the hassle, the striving, the not giving in. For the little boy the nativity play had been as wonderful as Jinny had wanted it to be for everyone."

And then Jinny and Ken, after they confound the deer smugglers who've been plaguing the moors, go to the Tinkers' celebration of Christmas.
"Here there were no costumes, no kings, no one striving to make this simple ceremony the best ever. It was as it was. Suddenly Jinny saw that all her efforts to turn the Glenbost nativity play into a spectacular happening had only been a way of showing off, wanting to make people see her as the best king, to admire Shantih. She hadn't really cared about the nativity. She had only cared about Jinny Manders being the most.
They went one by one and knelt before the Child. Sara first, the other tinkers, then Ken, and last of all Jinny. It seemed they moved in a formal, precise dance in which all played their part - those who waited and those who knelt. Jinny would have left Shantih as Ken had left Bramble but Sara motioned her to take Shantih with her. While Jinny knelt Shantih breathed warm sweet breath over the baby, who opened his eyes and laughed."

Thank you very much for sticking with this Advent Calendar. A very Merry Christmas to you all.

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Thursday, 24 December 2015

Advent Calendar 24 - Catherine Harris: The Ponies of Cuckoo Mill Farm

Catherine Harris' Marsham family crash through her series about them, and Christmas is no different. This Christmas they have to suffer the terrible (in their opinion) Forrest family, whose father has died. The initial meeting between the families did not go well. Mrs Marsham has to dole out some harsh home truths - but before she does that, she describes what Christmas Eve is like for her:

"I think Christmas Eve is the most beautiful of all nights," said Mrs. Marsham. She pointed towards the uncurtained window. 'Look how bright the stars are tonight. One couldn't help but know that it's Christmas night just by seeing them. And then there's a sense of silence somehow. I know we all rush about and make lots of noise and upset things, but beyond ourselves, the very atmosphere close around us seems so very still, waiting. It's the one night when I believe in magic.'
Happy Christmas Eve.

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Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Advent Calendar 23 - Veronica Westlake: The Ten Pound Pony

Veronica Westlake's The Ten Pound Pony is one of my absolute favourite books, and hopefully one of Susan Keith's, who suggested this, too. This excerpt is set on Christmas Eve (as is tomorrow's), and I really need to say nothing about it as it makes all the points it needs to perfectly well on its own.

We all went to bed for a short time after that, as later on we should be walking three miles into New Fratton (and back) to go to Midnight Mass there, and I think we were all in a strange, dreamy, unreal state when, with a slight shiver, we stepped out into the brilliant moonlight and started our long walk through a shining fairy-land of frost and snow. 

It must have been that queer trance between sleeping and waking that set me thinking and wondering about Colonel Mainwaring. Beastly as he had always been to us, incomprehensible in his headstrong rages, I yet felt sorry for him as I sat in the warm, glowing little church looking at the bright colours on the altar and hearing the first strains of the Adeste Fideles pealing out.  
Later on, as laughing and joking we pelted towards home and saw our funny little cottage, looking just like a Christmas cake in the moonlight, with the little candle in the window burning steadily in its bowl of moss, and a log fire, and the tiny glittering Christmas tree waiting for us inside, I wondered if he were shut up alone reading in his big, empty shuttered house from which all life and love seemed to have been driven - lonely and alone."

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Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Advent Calendar 22 - Ruby Ferguson: Jill Has Two Ponies

I couldn't let Christmas pass without another episode of Jillish Christmas. In Jill Has Two Ponies, Jill gets an early Christmas present of two loose boxes. She gets her mother a splendid white cushion "from a shop that appeared to be the kind of place that furnished palaces," and both are delighted with their presents.

Jill's other presents more than make up for this bounty. They are presents with a theme.

"As for my other presents, by some strange trick of Fate they nearly all turned out to be handkerchiefs. As I opened mysterious parcels in the cold light of that Christmas dawn and more and more handkerchiefs fell upon my bed I began to think I was under a spell, like people in fairy-tales. Of course I could understand getting handkerchiefs from rather soul-less people like my Aunt Primrose and my cousin Cecilia (of whom you have read in my previous books) and handkerchiefs I got, six white linen ones of a rather dainty size with a white J. for Jill in the corner; but when it came to Ann Derry I just couldn't guess what she was thinking about! The six she sent me were jolly big ones and would come in for stable rubbers, but why shouldn't a horsy person send another horsy person stable rubbers and have done with it? 

Mrs Lowe, Martin's mother, had also sent me handkerchiefs. Seven of different colours with the name of the day of the week in the corner, upon which day I suppose that particular handkerchief had to be used. I began to wonder if some awful Fate would befall the careless person who used the wrong handkerchief on the wrong day. In any case it would probably put you off pretty badly if you pulled out your handkerchief and found it said Monday when you knew perfectly well it was Saturday.

 ...When I went into Mummy's room and told her about all these handkerchiefs she laughed like anything and said it was a judgement on me for all the hundreds I had lost in a long and energetic lifetime. Then we heard Mrs. Crosby (No Relation to Bing) letting herself in downstairs and I went down to give her her present. Then she gave me what she had brought for me, which was a handkerchief, an enormous yellow cotton one with red horses' heads all over it.

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Monday, 21 December 2015

Advent Calendar 21 - K M Peyton: The Team

Jonathan Meredith is sitting watch his mother sort out the Pony Club files at Christmas time as she tries to work out which Pony Club members are possibles for the team.

"Jonathan heaved another half-hundredweight log into the ancient fire-place and watched an explosion of sparks spray across the soot-dark recess. It was snowing outside, a wet slow drift spattering the dusk. He was grateful for his privilege,sitting there with his knees close to the embers, feeling the warmth striking through his thin denims. He had been selling Christmas things in the Oxfam shop all day, and now didn't even have to go out and do his own horse for the night, for there was a groom to do it for him. Having been surrounded all day by posters of starving children, his own life suddenly seemed a bit odd, even pointless. He mother, for example, frowning over her card index. As if it mattered! 
'There's Peter NcNair, of course, if he happens to have a decent pony when the moment comes. You can never count on his father doing the right thing. He only thinks of the money.' 
'Well, it is his living,' Jonathan pointed out. 
Mr. McNair was a horse-dealer and his son's mounts came and went. The good ones mostly went, and Peter was left with the pigs. 
'If only he hadn't sold that chestnut, Toadhill Flax,' Mrs. Meredith grieved. 'Peter and that animal - what a combination. They could have gone right to the very top. Made for each other. I wonder what became of that pony? I've never heard of it since it was sold.'

And so is set up the scenario in which Ruth, who has outgrown Fly-by-Night, buys a lame pony she thinks is Toad at the local sales, and sets off a whole chain of reactions she doesn't, at first, understand.

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Sunday, 20 December 2015

Advent Calendar 20 - Golden Gorse: Moorland Mousie

Moorland Mousie is an even earlier pony story than Joanna Cannan's A Pony for Jean, and it's one of the best examples of the pony-tells-its-own-tale stories that were so popular in the early decades of the 20th century.

Moorland Mousie is an Exmoor pony, and the book tells his story from foalhood through being rounded up and broken, to his somewhat chequered career as a child's pony. Mousie and his companion Tinker have been left terrified of humanity after being rounded up. Fortunately Patience, the daughter of Colonel Coke, who bought both ponies, takes things very, very slowly, and provides an object lesson in how to treat a wild pony. By Christmas, she's made progress.

"From now on life became pleasanter. Fear is a terrible thing, and it is the greatest trouble of all horses. It was a wonderful thing to feel that there was at least one human being of whom we were no longer afraid. 
By Christmas Patience had succeeded in getting us both haltered, and that without scaring us one little bit. She did it all step by step, making a tiny bit of progress each day - never impatient, never in a hurry - and it was not till a very long time after, when I had met all sorts of human beings and realized how little they understand horses and how impatient they are, that I realized what a wonderful child she was."

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