A busy post today as I have been subsumed in work, work on the house and various other bits. And not reading enough. I have read Book 2 in my #20BooksOfSummer and hoping to get into a few more soon. News of reviews in other places first, though – my review of Jeremy Mynott’s “Birds in the Ancient World” is up on Shiny New Books here – the review takes a slightly different angle to my one on here earlier in the month, and in fact I think more people saw it when I shared on my Facebook page!

I have what is possibly the most awkward photo in the world coming up to explain my latest book confession, so let’s have a review first!

Paul Newman – “Lost Gods of Albion: The Chalk Hill-Figures of Britain”

(27 April 2019 – Oxfam Books, Muswell Hill)

I bought this when I was staying with Emma for London Marathon (supporting, not running) and it looked fascinating, but also I knew I was going to have to run past the White Horse of Uffington and Waylands’s Smithy during my upcoming ultra run, and I’ve got (I had) a THING about them, dating back to the joint scaring of my young self by the TV series “The Moon Stallion” (I read and reviewed the book here and it didn’t help) and various dark doings in Susan Cooper’s “The Dark is Rising” series. I knew they would feature in here and I thought it might take it away. Hm.

Anyway, this is an updated version of Newman’s previous book, with more detail and analysis. He explains in the Foreword the importance of how these figures worked in the landscape in relation to other features, and how they took part in people’s lives. There are around 30 of them, all in Southern England, and they have caused lots of theories about their origins and maintenance, some sensible, some very wild, which he shares very carefully and with a twinkle in his eye at some of the more outlandish ones.

He starts off with the White Horse of Uffington and shares a photo not unlike the one I managed to get from the hill (see my report on my Ridgeway training adventures here for photos of the Horse and the Smithy). Unfortunately, rather than taking the taste away, he mentions that the Smithy in particular has “an almost savage atmosphere”. Thanks for that! (It actually felt like a sacred grove and mysterious but peaceful and benign). Then we get all the famous ones and some others that are now grown over, with a history, origins and a conclusion that draws together the themes for each. There’s a chapter at the end about all the most outlandish theories and some detailed appendices including one detailing all the post 17th century hill figures that have been created, mostly regimental badges and horses. He’s good on how the old religions and ways were absorbed into Christianity and writes clearly and with a kind air (a bit like Mynott, actually).

I’ll leave you with this quotation which sums up the essential difficulty of writing the definitive work on chalk hill figures:

The Long Man epitomizes the central problem of identifying hill-figures, being vaguely evocative of many things in general and specifically evocative of nothing in particular. (p. 126)

He does have a nice turn of phrase, doesn’t he!

This was Book 2 in my #20BooksOfSummer project.

So last week I went to a book tour and signing by Tan France, one of the Fab Five who present “Queer Eye” over on Netflix (five gay guys make over someone’s life in a supportive and lovely fashion). Tan is the British one and was back home for three events. I saw a lot of friends there, including one who was my usher as I took my seat, Sarah Millican was a great, hilarious host and we got lots of authenticity and openness from Tan. I’d ordered a copy of his book, “Naturally Tan” (if you’re a fan, they’ve all got books out apart from Bobby – sadness!) with my ticket, and as I’d been one of the first 250 to arrive and to get given a wristband, I got the opportunity to have a photo taken with him. Which I, um, grasped with no hands whatsoever.

Turns out I really didn’t want to get close to someone I’d never met before and I don’t know what to do with my hands.

Queue, queue, give in your bag and coat, kind member of staff takes photo with your phone, retrieve your stuff, look at picture on phone, become embarrassed, leave. But I’m looking forward to reading the book!

I’m currently getting into Michael J. Benton’s “Dinosaurs Rediscovered” which is a fascinating look at new scientific breakthroughs in the study of dinosaurs. And you?