Saturday, 27 October 2012

Recent books

I bought several recently in Hay-on-Wye:  The Dartmoor Omnibus by Eden Phillpotts has been waiting for me, it would seem, these past couple of years.  I have picked it up, flipped through its pages, and put it back thinking, "But I already have Orphan Dinah as a seperate book, so it's not worth buying this."  This time I picked it up and felt guilty.  It did appear to be waiting for me.  Inside the cover it was inscribed, "Christmas 1936" .  Although I had Orphan Dinah, I didn't have (nor had I read) The Three Brothers, Children of Men or The Whirlwind.  To purchase these separately would cost a lot more than the £5 price of the book as he suddenly seems to be more collectable than he was (if Amazon and eBay and antique shops are anything to go by), so it was tucked under my arm and came home.

I have loved and collected Alison Uttley for many years.  She is another writer whose books are collectible.  This particular copy of Carts and Candlesticks is  very shabby so didn't cost the earth, and the C F Tunnicliffe illustrations are beautiful, as always, and remind me of books from my childhood.  This extract is from Chapter II: Warming-Pans and Candlesticks:

"The spotlessly clean warming-pan was highly polished, and its bright copper face was the first thing strangers saw when they came to the wide open side door.  It shone like red-gold, it was the essence of copper.  It reflected the beams from the fire on the opposite side of the room and flung them about, tossed and returned them, with the additional glow of the warm metal.  Like a polished mirror it hung, to catch every ray of light, and colour it with its own beauty.  There was something welcoming about it - a good broad smile, a winking eye, a flash of recognition, and a kindly air, for it had warmed our beds for generations and it knew our whims and tempers.  Even when all seemed to go wrong, the gay warming-pan had a secret understanding nod for me.

On cold winter nights, when ice crackled under the feet of the men in the yard, and the milk was nearly frozen in the pail, the warming-pan was lifted down from the hook and filled with red-hot cinders, glowing fiercely, raked from the heart of the kitchen fire, or from a sitting-room fire.  The servant girl went upstairs in haste with it, while I sped in front, holding high my candle to light her, for both her hands were occupied in keeping the warming-pan steady, out at arm's-length.  The heat from it was prodigious.  I entered a bedroom, throwing the door wide, and I turned back the cover and blankets from the bed.  The warming-pan was inserted between the sheets, and moved slowly up and down, with never a pause.

This action which had been performed for more years than anyone could remember, always gave me intense pleasure.  It was somehow rich and luxurious and an ancient rite, with the accompaniment of a good smell of clean linen, and hot cinders, and a faint odour of herbs and lavender and feathers.  The candle sent dancing shadows leaping up to the ceiling, the black figures of the girl and myself stooping over the bed, as the warming-pan was drawn to and fro, with never a moment's rest.  Then I slipped my hand through the sheets and felt the warmth and comfort within.   I carried the candle to another room and another bed was warmed.  There was a demand for the services of the warming-pan, and its attendant spirits.  Downstairs it was borne, the cinders were emptied out and the pan was left to cool."

The final book was "The Grockles' Guide" by Jeremy Warburg and Tessa Lorant.  You know my fascination with country language and so this purchase will not surprise any of my regular readers.  I think it deserves a page all of its own.  And a Grockle?  That is a West Country expression for a tourist or holiday-maker.  Occasionally Emmet is used instead . . .


  1. I'm sure I read Alison Uttley when I was a child? I loved the extract you inserted, I will go check out her books again.

  2. I'm sure you did Cait. Perhaps you were very small - think of Little Grey Rabbit, and Hare, and Fuzzypeg the Hedgehog, plus of course, her more "grown up" books which I absolutely adore. She wrote SO beautifully. I believe she was a native of Derbyshire.

  3. I have made small 'pillows' of heavy cotton which I fill with rice or flaxseed and some dried lavender. These can be microwaved for a few minutes and then tucked in to warm at least a welcoming place for feet to slip into bed. Not nearly as picturesque as this description of the warming pan. It seems there would be an art to this--if the pan wasn't moved steadily, wouldn't there have been scorching of sheets?

  4. I suspect that may well have been the case MM - Singed Sheets indeed! And presumably these would have been feather mattresses too, so if left too long, the rather nasty smell of burnt feathers and some mending to be done! I should imagine the occupants for each bed would hop in the moment the bed-pan was removed : )

    We rely on electric blankets here, and always have. It is such a damp chill house now we cannot afford to heat it, and a hot bath and later a warm bed, are winter delights.

  5. Beautiful writing indeed. I only know Alison Uttley through her Little Grey Rabbit books, so thank you for something of her adult writing.

  6. Alison Uttley wrote many books for adults and her writing is wonderful.I have all of her books and often re-read them ,they inspired me to visit Derbyshire many times with my husband and children to see the beautiful countryside that she wrote about.But best of all her descriptions of domestic life are so vivid and mirror the memories of my Grandmother,Mother and my own early childhood in a country farming life.

  7. There are some wonderfully evocative passages in all of Alison Uttley's books. Must re-read some of them this winter.