Monthly Archives: October 2015

Arrival of the cavalry (The story of a lost orchard part 6)

By the end of February 2015 I had cleared enough of the brambles, nettles and ivy down the side of the field, as well as the bottles, plastic bags and rusting bedsprings, to think about extending the fence that we had started at the top the previous year.   ‘Good fences make good neighbours’, and as this was the bit of the site most visible to neighbours, and to passers-by as well, I wanted to show a brave face to the world.


A small sample of the scrap metal dug up

Tibbiwell, the lane that runs past the orchard, is a steep climb, and most people walking up it are happy for almost any excuse to stop for a chat or just a look around.  Working there over the winter I’d had lots of conversations with people passing by.  It was clear that there was interest in what we were doing, but also some suspicion.  Were we about to start building works?   A new block of flats perhaps, or something even worse?   Putting in a fence would first of all establish that the site was actually owned by someone, and no longer a communal dumping area.   But putting in one that looked more rural than suburban, seemed almost like a gesture of good faith to the local community.

So in early March, Nick and Rich came back to help me extend the fence – or let’s be more accurate, came back to extend the fence, since my contribution was pretty much limited to clearing things out of their way and fetching cups of tea.  As it happened, their arrival pretty well coincided with the arrival of the builders, booked almost a year earlier to work on channelling water down to the site, so suddenly it was as if the cavalry had arrived.

Fence partly built

The fence gradually takes shape … but the wall crumbles

Rather less happily, their arrival also coincided with a section of retaining wall on the bank collapsing into the road.   It wasn’t very clear whether this had happened because of the natural effects of weather, water and frost, or because digging up roots had loosened the soil, or perhaps because it had been hit by a vehicle.   Lorries that are far too big for the road often try to go up or down Tibbiwell and the wall on the other side gets hit regularly, as evidenced by multiple paint marks on the stones.  On our side there’s a gully that makes it much more difficult to hit the wall, but there did seem to be some signs of paint on the stones in the road.   Maybe it was a combination of factors, but whatever the cause, the wall was not looking good and there was a real prospect that more of it could collapse.

Rather reluctantly, we decided that the best solution was to pull out the remains of the hedge, pull back the top of the bank to reduce the gradient and then build the retaining wall back up again.   We had to bring in the Chairman of the Parish Council to look at it, and clear it with the District Council as well, but in the end no official permission was required.  And with the builders just arrived on site, we had the right men for the job.   Don likes nothing better than reshaping a piece of ground with a digger and there’s not much about Cotswold stone walls that Andy and Simon don’t know.


The rebuilt retaining wall, complete with preserved ferns

On the other hand the arrival of a digger on site could only increase any fears that neighbours had about our intentions, not helped by the habit of the builders to respond to any questions by passing on the confidential information that the site had been identified for the reprocessing of chemical or nuclear waste.   I’m sure no-one took them seriously … but anyway, I wrote a short piece for the local village magazine explaining what we were doing.


But by the time the builders and the fencers left, we had a reshaped bank, a beautifully rebuilt retaining wall, a pretty sturdy fence running all the way down the edge of the field and another gate at the bottom.   We also had a lot less hedge than before and an orchard that had lost even more of the privacy and seclusion that had been its principal attraction.

We also had a much better source of running water arriving at the top of the site, but that’s a story for another time.


A new gate and steps at the bottom of the field

This is the sixth post in a series about the restoration of an old orchard.  You can see the earlier posts at the links below:

The story of a lost orchard – part 1

The story of a lost orchard – part 2

The story of a lost orchard – part 3

The story of a lost orchard – part 4

The story of a lost orchard – part 5

Le vendange

Today was a big day.   After three years of planning and building up to it, the very first grape harvest from our own small vineyard.


It has to be said that there is no great tradition of grape harvesting in the Cotswolds.  There are no festivals or ceremonies that have been practiced over the years to celebrate the end of the year’s work and the bringing in of the harvest, no Bacchanalian revels sanctioned by long history.  Although that’s probably just as true for the apple harvest and that hasn’t stopped modern day orchard owners locally from inventing a few traditions of their own – dancing round the apple trees, warding off evil spirits and wassailing away.

So we can probably be excused for raising a glass tonight to celebrate another successful stage passed in a long process.  Not the final stage of course – that will only come when we can raise a glass of our own wine – but an important stage still.

There had been a row of vines in the garden when we first moved in over 20 years ago, but they’d never produced many grapes and we’d eventually pulled them out.  I’d never forgotten them, and I must have gone on a bit about how good it would be to put some back in and make our own wine, so in the end Sue decided to call my bluff.   For my birthday in early 2013 she bought me a couple of hours of consultancy from local winemakers on how to plant vines and grow grapes.


She was imagining I might plant half a dozen of them, but by the time the consultant left, I’d committed to buying 60 vines, to be planted in 6 neat rows of ten.  We’re lucky enough to have a field at the bottom of our garden, so it only needed a small section to be cordoned off and suddenly we had our own vineyard.  Although to be honest it wasn’t really sudden at all.   It was long hours banging in fence posts, stretching stock fencing between them, digging holes in the turf to plant the vines, later extending them to form long strips, laying membrane and covering it with gravel, tending and watering the young plants, and so on.   But after a year we had 60 vines grown long and ready to be cut back to three shoots for the following year.


Another year’s growth, this time in three directions from each plant and again we pruned back ready for year 3.   Over the second summer I had built a system of poles and wires to support the fruit and by early 2015 we were ready to go.  Two arms stretched out along the wires for the fruit-bearing shoots to climb up from, and a central stem to provide shoots for next year’s fruiting arms.


It’s amazing just how much fruit you can get from a single vine.  We had proper-looking bunches and lots of them, although the grapes never reached anything like the size you’d expect from supermarket grapes.  They seemed to take for ever to ripen through a long autumn, and two weeks into October the sugar levels were still too low.  That wasn’t bothering the various types of wildlife who were starting to feast on them.   I stretched out nets to try to keep birds out, but something was clearly still getting in under the net and munching away on the lower bunches.  We seem to have had a huge number of pheasants in the garden this year and I suspect they may have a sweet tooth (or a sweet beak).


Finally though we got the green light and so this morning it was time for the ‘vendange’.  From just under 60 vines (we lost a few along the way) we got 126.5 kilos of grapes.   Now we just need the patience to wait another 6 months for the wine.


Grapes 7


Early Tauchnitz publisher’s bindings

At heart the Tauchnitz Editions were paperbacks.  That’s almost an article of faith for me, despite the fact that a high proportion of them were taken on a visit to the bookbinder.  And because the bound copies survived better, an even higher proportion of the surviving copies are hardbound books, in a bewildering variety of bindings.

But not all Tauchnitz Editions were sold as paperbacks. Almost from the start, Tauchnitz offered books for sale in bound editions as well as paperback. The earliest record of these is an announcement in the Börsenblatt für den deutschen Buchhandel on 31 May 1842, that attractively bound copies (schöne Einbände) would be available two weeks after the paperback issue.

The binding this referred to was almost certainly the binding illustrated below and classified as binding x1 in the Todd & Bowden bibliography of Tauchnitz Editions. I have several of the early editions in this binding, but nothing to rival the magnificent run of almost all the first 100 volumes that exists in the Pressler Collection, now in the National Library of Scotland.

Publisher binding x1 1
Publisher binding x1 2

Bindings in this style don’t seem to exist much after volume 100, in 1846, although the bibliography records an unusual copy of ‘Bleak House’ bound in this style from around 1852. There are though many fairly similar bindings that were probably produced by private binders.

The usual rule for recognising that a binding is produced and sold by the publisher, rather than being a private binding attached to a book sold as a paperback, is that it has the publisher’s name on the binding.   Few publishers could resist the temptation to add their own name to the binding, sometimes almost with greater prominence than that of the author, but oddly few private binders thought the name of the publisher of any relevance at all.   It seems unlikely that bindings without the Tauchnitz name on are produced by the firm, although there are certainly a few private bindings that are marked with it, particularly later on, as ‘Tauchnitz Edition’ became almost a generic product name applied to any continental edition in English.

The example below, which shows a first printing of ‘The Pickwick Papers’, volumes 2 and 3 of the series, alongside the later volumes 36 and 50, is an interesting example.  The bindings are clearly very similar, and this applies not only to the spine, but to the boards as well, which are almost identical, as are the endpapers and the marbling of the page edges.  The most significant difference between the two is that the later volumes have the words ‘Tauchnitz Edition’ at the base of the spine.   Is it possible that the first two are an early binding from the publisher, before he developed the vanity to insist on his own name being applied?

Publisher binding x1 3

However the Pressler collection includes a similar copy of ‘The Pickwick Papers’ in the standard publisher binding, with the words ‘Tauchnitz Edition’ at the foot of the spine. It seems unlikely that the firm would have sold two versions, with and without the publisher name.  So my best guess is still that my copy is a private binding, although possibly produced by the same bookbinder, if the Tauchnitz binding work was outsourced, or perhaps by another bookbinder in Leipzig, who worked in a similar style.

Although this early publisher binding was probably not offered for long, other styles followed it and were offered for sale by Tauchnitz at various times, indeed throughout most of their history.  I’ll come back to the other types of binding in later posts.

Henry V at Stratford

My mental image of Henry V, assembled more from references elsewhere than from actually seeing it, was of a stirring tale of English valour against the odds – a very patriotic, even nationalist play and certainly a very serious one.  ‘Once more unto the breach, dear friends’, and the St. Crispin’s Day speech are so much a part of our culture that they define the play if you’re not familiar with it.

Royal Shakespeare Company production ofHENRY Vby William Shakespearedirected by Gregory Doran

Alex Hassall as Henry V, directed by Gregory Doran

So it was bit of a shock to discover that the play itself, at least in this production, is almost more a knockabout comedy than a tale of heroism, or a reflection on the nature of war.   Getting the balance right between the two seemed difficult to me, and I wasn’t sure that the RSC quite managed it.   If Bardolph, Nym and Pistol, brought over from Henry IV, were the only comic characters it would be fine, but we have another comedy set up with a Scotsman, Welshman and Irishman, a comic scene in the French court where the Princess is trying to learn English, another with one of the King’s soldiers (Williams) who ends up striking him, and even in the more serious scenes, the French Dauphin seems to be treated largely as a comic character.

Royal Shakespeare Company production ofHENRY Vby William Shakespearedirected by Gregory Doran

Falstaff’s old drinking companions are back

With all that going on, the transition from comedy to stirring speeches, or to the King’s introspection, seems crucial.   How do you deal with a comedy Scotsman, followed by an order from the King to kill the French prisoners?  Some of the comedy was brilliantly done – assuming it’s still OK in the 21st century to mock the Scots, the Welsh, the Irish and the French through stereotypes, in a manner that certainly wouldn’t be OK for some other nationalities.   Some of the serious stuff was brilliantly done too, and Alex Hassall carried off the title role well – entirely convincing in the transition from Prince Hal in Henry IV to the warrior king here.  He delivered the stirring speeches well, looked the part of a heroic leader, but still convinced in the more introspective speeches and in his bumbling courtship of the French princess.

I also enjoyed the staging, which made good use of the thrust stage, but seemed much simpler in terms of scenery or props than most RSC productions.  That made sense of Oliver Ford Davies’ role as the Chorus, powerfully urging us to use our imaginations.   Sometimes there are so many visual flourishes at the RSC that imagination is hardly required.

Royal Shakespeare Company production ofHENRY Vby William Shakespearedirected by Gregory Doran

Oliver Ford Davies was impressive as the Chorus

But I wasn’t entirely sure that the transition from comedy to seriousness worked so well.  The English (or British?) army was presented as such a ragbag bunch of misfits that its conversion to a supreme fighting force capable of defeating an army several times its size, seemed little short of a miracle.   If it was King Henry’s oratory that did the trick, it wasn’t obvious here.  His passionately delivered ‘What’s he that wishes so?’ speech, seemed to be met with a sullen silence.   If Chris Robshaw’s inspirational words to his team were met with that kind of reaction, then it’s no wonder that England are out of the Rugby World Cup.

Henry V 3