Random Thursday: Pick Up A Penguin

In 1934 when a young Allen Lane was working for his cousins publishing company The Bodley Head, he attended a conference on ‘The New Reading Public’. After a weekend in Devon with his friend Agatha Christie he was at Exeter St. David’s station waiting for a train to Paddington when he realised that the only books on sale were ‘shabby reprints of shoddy novels’. What was needed for the ‘new reading public’ were good quality paperbacks, in a size that could fit into your pocket and at a price everyone could afford.

He took the idea back to the office and ideas were rattled out around the table. He wanted to sell a brand, publishing in batches of 10 books, each with a recognisable cover and with a name that was easy to say and remember. To sell them where people gathered and for sixpence, the price of a packet of 10 cigarettes. Allen’s secretary, Joan Coles suggested a penguin and Edward Young, a junior in the editorial department designed the logo. After much wrangling Lane was able to buy the rights for paperback editions of his first 10 books and by using the offices and imprint of The Bodley Head, in 1935 the first batch of 10 Penguins was published.

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Random Tuesday

On a walk through the woods, I passed my favourite tree

which is a beech growing in front of an oak

When you look up, you can see that the trunks have become completely entwined, quite spookily I think.

And underneath was this perfect pair of Magpie Inkcaps, first identified in 1785 by French mycologist Jean Baptiste Fran├žois Pierre Bulliard. Although they’re not uncommon they are usually solitary, so I was lucky to see a pair.

‘One for Sorrow, Two for Joy’

Random Saturday

Earlier this year I read Thomas De Quincey’s essay Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, where he describes the pleasure and pain of being an addict. In his youth TDQ idolised William Wordsworth, running away from school with a copy of Lyrical Ballads in his pocket and twice travelling to Dove Cottage, Wordsworth’s home, to meet him but turning back when he lost confidence!

Before he describes the pains of addiction he gives us his analysis of perfect happiness, wrapped in a picture of a winters evening with an eternal tea pot, that I think must be set at Dove Cottage.

“Let there be a cottage, standing in a valley . . . Let the mountains be real mountains, between 3 and 4000 feet high; and the cottage, a real cottage;. . .let it be, in fact (for I must abide by the actual scene), a white cottage, embowered with flowering shrubs, so chosen as to unfold a succession of flowers upon the walls, and clustering round the windows through all the months of spring, summer, and autumn – beginning in fact, with May roses, and ending with jasmine.

“Let it, however, not be spring, nor summer, nor autumn – but winter, in his sternest shape. This is a most important point in the science of happiness. I put up a petition annually for as much snow, hail, frost, or storm, of one kind or other, as the skies can possibly afford us. Surely everybody is aware of the divine pleasures which attend a winter fire-side: candles at four o’clock, warm hearth-rugs, tea, a fair tea-maker, shutters closed, curtains flowing in ample draperies on the floor, whilst the wind and rain are raging audibly without.

“Paint me, then, a room . . . Make it populous with books: and, furthermore, paint me a good fire; and furniture, plain and modest, befitting the unpretending cottage of a scholar. And, near the fire, paint me a tea-table; and (as it is clear that no creature can come to see one on such a stormy night,) place only two cups and saucers on the tea-tray: and, if you know how to paint such a thing symbolically, or otherwise, paint me an eternal tea-pot.”

I love this celebration of winter and quietness, just two cups one for him and the other for his “fair tea-maker“, his wife Margaret. These photographs are from the Dove Cottage website and the middle one is of the house ‘servants’ making their way into work one winter!

Random Tuesday

I understand that this year we’re having a mast autumn in the south of England. Something that happens every 5 to 10 years when all the trees synchronise to produce a vast quantity of fruit- far too much for the predators to eat so saplings can grow and flourish. And it’s true, the hedgerows are dripping with berries and the quantity of conkers and acorns, crab apples and beech masts make walking a dangerous business, any small gust of wind and the thud of conquers hitting the ground makes Dylan the dog and I stop in our tracks!

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Random Sunday

Listening to the US presidential debates has reminded me that four years ago we were in Vermont in a staunchly Bernie Sanders supporting house.

The sheer abundance of autumnal leaves, pumpkins and rosy apples cast a glow of reds and oranges against the bluest sky that kept me in a state of permanent rapture!

It was a week of steep hikes and apple festivals, eating Ben & Jerry’s, actually watching a bear cross the road in front of us, and sitting on a swing seat on a wooden verandah sipping drinks and pretending I was Olivia Walton or Marilla Cuthbert.

We spent a lot of time discussing exterior house colours and trying to choose our favourites. This gorgeous purple house had paintwork picked out in green and sat next door to a house painted in bright sunshine yellow.


Our host had moved his Georgian house from the nearby town into the forest and painted it in classic colonial Barn Red and Prussian Blue, building up a small farm, with about thirty Dorset breed sheep.

We breakfasted on sausages and homemade sage cornbread that we ate still hot, straight from the pan. A jug of maple syrup was always on the table, made in the barn every winter when there was too much snow to move.

Larry was a wonderful host and a skilled craftsman and had made this rocking chair, with the seat woven to match the colours of the house. It sits happily by the fire in the kitchen and is just, I think, a perfect reading spot.

As soon as we got home I had to relive it through Diane Keaton in Baby Boom and I think I’m going to have to go and watch it again (and yes, slightly embarassingly I did go and see the actual house!)

Random Sunday

For a long time I’ve been thinking that I should have a ‘filler’ post, something that keeps me in touch especially when I’m having a dry patch with reviews.  I’m inspired by so many brilliant regular posts that I see, but I can’t decide what mine should be about, I have decided though that it’s time to stop thinking and time to get on with it. So no themes to start with just a miscellany of indulgent randomness that hopefully will build into something of a scrapbook and maybe a pattern will start to emerge.

In my recent review This Side Of Paradise I mentioned that Amory Blaine included Edward Carpenter in his list of forward thinkers and that he was one of my hero’s too, so my first random post is going to be:

Edward Carpenter 1844-1929

ed carpenter signed

Social reformer, poet and writer Edward Carpenter was a pioneering supporter of womens rights and an early campaigner for gay rights. Strongly influenced by Walt Whitman, his home which he shared with his life long partner George Merrill became an informal refuge and is where E.M. Forster was inspired to write Maurice. Continue reading “Random Sunday”