How the Blog Works

How the blog works

The most recent entries or "posts" appear at the top. To find older ones, scroll down. On the right at the bottom of the page are links to older posts, which you can click on to find material posted last year, last month, etc.

Contributions are welcome and can be e-mailed to me at . Content can include 1) announcements about, or introductions to, forthcoming meetings and other events of possible interest to members. 2) Summaries of talks given at Literary Society meetings or at meetings of the Book Group. 3) Announcements of forthcoming TV or radio programmes of possible interest to readers. 4) Reviews of books read recently or in the past.

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Sunday, 17 February 2019

January Meeting: Black Magic

 Many Thanks to Cindi Cogswell for this account of our first 2019 meeting, first published in Winchelsea Village Voice in the Rye Observer:

"The actor David Meyer (born 1947) performed in the 1983 James Bond film Octopussy as a circus entertainer with a skill for knife throwing, together with his identical twin brother Anthony.   More recently David played the scientist Sir Isaac Newton on tour in the USA and has been working at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London.  Last Friday David gave an interesting talk at the Literary Society’s meeting focussing on the theme of Black Magic in Shakespeare’s play Macbeth.   The making of Macbeth was inspired by King James VI of Scotland who became King James I of England following the death of Elizabeth I in 1603.   It was at the request of this same King that the Bible was translated from the original Hebrew and Greek languages into English in 1611 which was England’s authorised version (the KJV).  King James I also took seriously the matter of witches and in 1604 passed an Act against Witchcraft which made it mandatory to hang someone convicted of being a witch.  The play Macbeth revealed the precarious times in which Shakespeare lived which grew more unstable when in 1605 the Gunpowder Plot was exposed.   The drama which was performed in front of King James in 1606, was driven by the witches’ prophecy that Macbeth would become King of Scotland.   This led Macbeth to eliminate everyone that stood in his way assisted by his even more sinful wife.   Macbeth’s visit to the witches can be compared to King Saul of Israel’s meeting with the witch of Endor in 1 Samuel 28 where he went in desperation to request a course of action against the threatening Philistines.  Both kings ultimately failed in their hopes of success.  In his book ‘Daemonologie’ King James asserted his belief in witchcraft as a dangerous practise and the punishment required to deal with it.  Shakespeare’s perspective is less certain and it is questionable whether his depiction of witchcraft in Macbeth caters to the King’s interests or underlines the King’s involvement with witch-hunting.  It is probably a bit of both.  After the law passed in 1604 against witchcraft over 500 people were believed to have been executed.  Often it was poor elderly women who were accused and the last trials were held in 1717.   In 1736 the laws against witchcraft were annulled but fines would be imposed on people who claimed to use magic powers.  At the time this caused much laughter among MPs who knew there was an interest in the occult amongst prominent members of society including Sir Isaac Newton.  The Act was repealed in 1951 by the Fraudulent Mediums Act which in turn was repealed in 2008 so that there are now no laws banning witchcraft despite ongoing concerns about this practice.   In his talk David’s interest in the supernatural which appeared to stop short of a belief in God, implied that he might have encountered an apparition while working in the theatre, since strange things are said to happen when Macbeth is performed, although it could have been an act."      

Saturday, 8 December 2018

November Meeting: The Perils and Pleasures of a Literary Review - Gail Pirkis & Hazel Wood (a conversation)

"Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes"  thought the classicists among the more than slightly foxed members of the Lit. Soc. as they assembled in the Court Hall for the Society’s November meeting in the expectation of being regaled with the perils and pleasures of literary review and finding neatly parcelled gifts awaiting them. Anyway, the two guest speakers seemed reassuringly English and showed no sign of having sprung from the belly of any beast. Working as a practised duet, they recounted 14 years’ experience as the editors of the quixotic quarterly magazine Slightly Foxed. Their partnership was forged in 2004 in the publishing world where Gail had been a book editor and Hazel a writer. Hazel was charged with looking after the intriguingly named “slush table”.    

Their quirky joint venture was a literary review whose contributors were rather left field for the world of arts and letters but were accorded equal importance with the book. They accepted a wide range of material and were always receptive to suggestions with The Seagull Outboard Motor Manual being  their most eccentric review selection, although apparently well received by the readership. The reviewers ranged from the celebrated to the obscure with a preference for those whose learning was lightly worn. Reinforcing first impressions of  an effective tag team, our speakers explained their editorial modus operandi – they both had to read and approve a contribution before it could appear in the journal.  

The Foxy Ladies aimed to give the reader the full spectrum of sensory experience with a considered choice of printing company and typographer. When they branched out into book publishing in 2008, they favoured sewn rather than glued-on backing, high quality paper and scraperboard illustrations allowing the reader to luxuriate in the reading experience with visual and tactile stimulation enhancing the intellectual. Their first offering was Rosemary Sutcliff’s  Blue Remembered Hills and they are currently producing the same author’s Eagle of the Ninth adventure series. They seek out authors with a distinctive voice offering a window into another world e.g. A Country Doctor’ s Commonplace Book. 

Quitting the seductive ambiance of “tea and tattle” so redolent of the 1980s Young Fogey phenomenon, Gail sketched out the practical evolution of their small business with steep learning curves in computing, obsolescent credit card machines, website creation, an  online shop, Readers’ Days and podcasts. They were able to capitalise on an interview with the Today programme on Radio 4  to publicise their civilising mission. The company ethos merges imperceptibly with the genius loci of their Hoxton H.Q. – plastic is banned; bags, wrapping soap bottles. 

The evening, doubtless in unconscious imitation of Slightly Foxed  itself, turned out to be a charming and unexpectedly fascinating experience with more than a touch of congenial whimsicality.  

William Doherty 

To visit the Slightly Foxed web-site, with details of the quarterly journal, the books, the podcast and the newsletter CLICK HERE

Friday, 16 November 2018

Literary Society outing to Ewhurst Green, 2 November 2018

R E Q U I E M  by C. J. DRIVER
  At the Church of  St. James the Great, Ewhurst Green, as part of the World War I Armistice Centenary, Friday 2nd November, 2018 (All Soul’s Day).  Each of the Seven groups of verse were interspersed  by beautiful and restful excerpts from J.S. Bach’s Cello Suite (No. 1) played by Martin Bradshaw.    

Our deepest thanks are due to Jonty for his invitation to join him for a reading of his poem given in Westminster Abbey in September 2014 – at the start of the Nation’s four years of recollection of The Great War and remembrances of its losses. The poem was written in 1998 after two months study leave from Wellington College.

Sixteen members of the Society left Winchelsea in a Rye & District Community Minibus on a dry twilight evening, arriving at the Church to a warm welcome from Canon Christopher Irvine and his congregation. Many old friendships were renewed as we settled down to hear what Jonty describes “as a single poem in seven parts in the manner of Brahms German Requiem.  It moves from early morning to mid-afternoon to late night; from winter to spring to summer; from time present to time past and back to time present; from despair to rage to acceptance – and the forms balance not only each other but the structure, ranging from rhymed quatrains to the pentameter (broken and fragmented) to leisurely syllabics. Yet, for all its technical variety, the voice of Requiem is utterly personal: quiet, experienced, sombre, vulnerable.”

Below I have selected some stanzas from most of the seven sections to give examples of this very personal account of family and homes in South Africa and England – in the hope that readers who were not fortunate enough to be with us may get its flavour and wish to read the whole themselves.                    

                        A whole day is inspired by the last two verses of Psalm 39….

               “For I am a stranger with thee

                And a sojourner as all my fathers were

                O spare me a little that I may recover my strength

                Before I go hence and am no more seen.”

1.      Before Sunrise.        “There are ghosts in the garden mists….

                                                                ………………And there is silence

                                                            Like the dead walking in a dream.


                                                            I dream constantly of the dead.

                                                      Into my sleep they come walking, walking,

                                                      In this frozen dark of mid-winter dawn -

                                                            The blank-eyed ghosts of Africa.”

2.       Love song in Twelve Fragments

       3. “I shall keep my mouth as it were with a bridle….” 


                                                      “I have no desire to be young again,

                                                        Yet no desire for death, nor to be old

                                                        And sensible. For too long I have told

                                                        The young what I myself fail to avoid.

                                                        So what I want to know is just how long

                                                        Have I got – not detail, not to the day

                                                        Nor hour, just a stab at when I shall say

                                                        My last good-night, fail to rise from my chair,

4.     Halfway to Heaven  “Let not my slippery footsteps slide…”


                                                       “Nowhere going

                                                         Nothing knowing

                                                         Silence only

                                                        Almost lonely

                                                        Striding streamwards

                                                        Trudging hill-high

                                                        Downland going

                                                        Upland slowing.”


              “It is one of those days when you might almost believe in heaven;

               Early spring, well before Easter, and when you look across the fields

               It’s as if the harrowed lands had been washed with water-colour

               Or the sun had a green filter – cold still, so you half-wish for gloves….”

There are Three Elegies in 5.  The first is WAR-GRAVE


                                           “In Brown’s Wood; a cemetery in Northern France;


                                             I’ve come at last to view a single grave;

                                             My father’s father, Private Harry Driver,

                                             Killed in nineteen-sixteen, aged thirty-two;

                                             Survived a fortnight only, at the front.


                                                        ………….. It’s my grandfather’s grave,

                                              Is it from this death that I began to grow?


                                              I stand beside his grave to say a prayer

                                              For Harry Driver, and the rest like him,

                                              On whom the guns were trained before they moved

                                              That morning down the deadly sunken road.

                                              I cannot make the slightest sense of all

                                              These deaths. If God exists, He must have shut

                                              His eyes, or else would intervene to stop

                                              This slaughter. But God cannot hide His eyes.

                      After 6. Love-song in Old Age              

                       comes 7.  Late night:  Waking

                                              “Late at night I wake; l’m still downstairs;

                                                At the garden gate I stand, staring out

                                                At scented summer night. There’s too much light

                                                To see the stars, but even if I could

                                                I do not know my way around this sky.

                                                An owl is tracing maps below the house,

                                                From tree to lake to copse, and back again;

                                                Unlike this ancient exiled sojourner,

                                                He knows precisely where his place should be.


                                                Upstairs my wife is sound asleep. My son

                                                Stands by my side, to watch the shadowed lawn

                                                And hedges. I am at home in England,

                                                At home as much as I shall ever be.

                                                Lightly my strong son hugs me his goodnight

                                                And I reply in kind, my height to height,

                                                To flesh my flesh, and of my father’s, too.

                                                These garden ghosts have friendly eyes.



The audience were plied with refreshments in the church by Canon Christopher and his team. The  Winchelsea party then repaired to The White Dog for a happy supper. We were grateful to Lorna and Hilary for organising such efficient transport to and from Ewhurst Green.

Alan McKinna

(The text of the whole of "Requiem" can be found on the blog as part of the order of service at Westminster Abbey in September 2014)