The Pastor’s Wife by Elizabeth von Arnim

22 December 2014 00:06

The Pastor’s Wife by Elizabeth von Arnim is another great book by the author of Elizabeth and Her German Garden. Do you know it took me ages to find out the author’s name because I read that first book of hers long before the internet and my beautiful calf bound and gold edged ancient copy of the book had no clues to the author, anyway – how times change, everything is now just a google away.

Ingeborg Bullivant is the eldest daughter of a Church of England bishop, she has a younger sister who is a beauty and very much her parents’ favourite. Ingeborg is not a beauty and is cast in the role of useful daughter and as such she is completely put upon and taken for granted. She acts as a secretary for her father and he is happy for her to do so as he thinks the work would be too mindless for his assistants. Her mother has, like many a Victorian woman, taken to her sofa, where she spends every day avoiding the real world and feigning illness if anything unpleasant rears its ugly head.

After suffering terrible toothache for a whole week Ingeborg’s family decide that they will have to do without her while she goes to London to have her tooth sorted out. The London dentist sees immediately what is causing the problem and gets rid of it. However, Ingeborg has been givem £10 by her father and he has told her to stay in London as long as it takes to be cured, even if it’s as long as ten days.

Until then she had spent her whole life in Redchester and had really never been on her own before, she was ready for adventure. The thought of returning immediately to a family which treats her as their dogsbody is less than enchanting and when she sees a travel poster for a trip to Lucerne she decides to spend £7 of her money joining the excursion.

The other travellers are obviously well used to such trips and know how to behave, in other words, keep themselves to themselves until they know each other better, so when Ingeborg starts to chat with a German man, she’s seen as beyond the pale and shunned by the others so inevitably a friendship ensues. Of course he turns out to be a German pastor.

Things repeat themselves in this book as they often do in real life. Ingeborg gets her name from a Swedish grandmother who had run off to England to marry a vicar. After several children Ingeborg deals with her husband in a more honest way than her mother does the bishop, her husband. It isn’t in her to be manipulative like that, but Ingeborg’s honesty leads to fury and then complete disinterest from her husband. The poor girl hadn’t realised that she was just a woman who had met a man at the exact time when he was thinking it was time he had a wife, so he decided she was IT.

The pastor, Robert Dremmel is really only interested in his agricultural research, he’s trying to find the best combination of chemicals for the very sandy soil which his parish is set in. I kept wanting to grab him by the lapels and tell him that it doesn’t matter what you add into sandy soil, it gets washed out almost as fast as you put it in!

I read this book on my Kindle, I had thought that I owned a copy but it isn’t with my other von Arnims so I might have been wrong about that – which is so annoying because when we were in Buckingham in September I bought half a shelf full of lovely old von Arnims from a charity shop, thinking that I already had the others but I now know that there were at least two I didn’t have!

There’s a lot more to this book than I have written, it’s not quite as good as The Enchanted April but is still very good. You can download it here.

White Christmas by The Drifters and Clyde McPhatter

20 December 2014 21:40

I was listening to Radio Scotland the other day when this version of White Christmas was played, the DJ recommended that we have a look at it on You Tube, so I did and thought you might enjoy it too.

The Drifters with Clyde McPhatter

The Moving Toyshop by Edmund Crispin

19 December 2014 23:11

The Moving Toyshop cover

The Moving Toyshop by Edmund Crispin was first published in 1946 and it’s a Gervase Fen mystery. The book was dedicated to Philip Larkin who of course was offered the post of Poet Laureate in 1984, but decided against taking up the offer. The Moving Toyshop was published just after Larkin’s first book of poetry was published, I mention this because one of the main characters in the book is a young poet.

I had a vague idea that this one had been made into a film but it seems to have been a TV series, way back in 1964, you can at least see who was in it here.

I think this is the third Gervase Fen mystery which I’ve read and although I’ve liked them all, this one is definitely my favourite. Apart from it being a good mystery it’s also a good laugh, Crispin obviously didn’t take himself too seriously. He does the bookish equivalent of an actor looking into the camera and speaking to the audience. When asked which way to go at a fork in the road he has Cadogan the young poet saying – Let’s go left, after all Gollancz is publishing this book. Obviously referring to the original publisher of the book Victor Gollancz a well known supporter of left-wing politics. There’s a lot of humour but I’m sure that for his friends there was a whole lot more in the way of in jokes.

Anyway, to the book: Richard Cadogan a young poet who has been living in London decides to have a holiday in Oxford where he had been to university. He’s looking for romance and a bit of excitement. Due to a mix up with trains he ends up having to hitch a lift there from a lorry driver and gets to Oxford late at night. He’s dropped off just outside the centre of town and passes a shop on the way to a place where he can sleep, such as one of the colleges. An awning has been left out over one of the shops and on the spur of the moment he tries the door, it’s a toyshop and the door isn’t locked. Stepping into the shop and half expecting an irate owner to come downstairs and accuse him of burglary, he has a look around, and then he trips over a body!

When he returns later with the police, there’s no body and not even a toyshop. Where the toyshop had been there is now a grocery. With the help of his friend Professor Gervase Fen he sets out to solve the mystery.

This is a great read and a good laugh too. P.D. James named The Moving Toyshop as one of the top five mystery books.

The Doorbell Rang by Rex Stout

18 December 2014 00:48

The Doorbell Rang by Rex Stout was first published in 1966 and is really quite a remarkable book considering its subject matter and the times in which it was published.

J. Edgar Hoover was the first Director of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation and he stayed in that office until his death in 1972 at the age of 77. He had a terrific amount of power and people were terrified of him for good reason as he could easily ruin careers and lives – and he did so – often.

Anyway, that’s the background to the time the book was written in. In The Doorbell Rang a very rich widow, Rachel Bruner has bought 10,000 copies of a book called The FBI Nobody Knows in which the FBI is said to be overstepping their remit and getting involved in illegal actions, she has sent the books to influential people and anybody whom she thinks should read it. As you can imagine this has not gone down well within the FBI and Rachel Bruner believes that she is being tailed and her phones are being tapped, also her friends are being hauled in for questioning. She wants to hire Nero Wolfe to prove that the FBI are harrassing her and her friends and for him to put a stop to it.

Unsurprisingly Nero Wolfe isn’t at all keen to take on the case because he doesn’t want to be targeted by the FBI too, but eventually he gives in when an enormous cheque is given to him. It means that he won’t have to take on any more cases for a good while and he can concentrate on reading, and of course his beloved orchids.

With Archie Goodwin and not forgetting Fritz the chef who provides them with wonderful meals, this is my favourit Rex Stout so far. I feel that it was the author’s way of getting a lot off his chest about the FBI. Hoover was a distinctly weird and dangerous character and he did have Rex Stout in his sights.

Sadly history is repeating itself – as it usually does, with any ‘whistleblowers’ nowadays being hounded and vilified, just for telling the truth about what the powers that be are getting up to.

Anyway, I’ve meandered from the book as usual, if you haven’t read The Doorbell Rang, you should.

Argyle Street in Glasgow

16 December 2014 23:43

Looking back again on our few days away in Glasgow recently, we walked from our hotel along Argyle Street, part of which you can see below. It was quite early in the morning but still busy.

Argyle Street 1

The other end of Argyle Street in the photo below is looking along to what is nicknamed ‘The Hielanman’s Umbrella’. What looks like a building across the bottom of the road is in fact a railway bridge and as it is situated near the Highland Institute it apparently always had a lot of ‘teuchters’ (Highlanders) sheltering from the rain there, waiting to meet up with their dance date before going into the dances at the institute.

Argyle Street 2

I must have walked past this doorway below thousands of times but it obviously was always just there and it never made much of an impression on me as I couldn’t remember ever seeing it before. It certainly made me look this time, those Victorians liked to do things on a massive scale. It’s a side entrance to what is part of the Frasers building. Remnant King’s fabric shop is up the stairs from there and that is where I was heading anyway.

figures Frasers

So through that doorway you enter a ‘close’ or an internal stairway. And here it is below, it is what is called in Glasgow a ‘wally’ close. Wally (pronounced to rhyme with sally) means china or pottery and it refers to the fact that the walls are tiled. You might have heard of those china spaniels which were popular in Victorian times and on many a mantlepiece being referred to as ‘wally dugs’ If you lived in a block of flats which had a wally close then it was always seen as being a bit posh, better than just painted walls anyway.

a close + lift 1

Going up the stairs to the shop I wanted to visit, there’s quite a grand window, but just up a few steps from that was the door to the shop which had a sign on in saying – CLOSED – SEWING CLASS IN PROGRESS.

So I never did get into that fabric shop this time around which I ended up being quite glad about because Manders is a better one I think.

a close + lift 2

Inspector French’s Greatest Case by Freeman Wills Crofts

15 December 2014 23:38

Inspector French’s Greatest Case by Freeman Wills Crofts was first published in 1925. I’ve read a few books by the same author and I think this one is unfortunately titled as I found it to be really slow and tedious, and worst of all I sussed out exactly how it was going to take shape very early on.

It begins with a murder and diamond theft in London’s Hatton Garden. Inspector French of Scotland Yard is in charge of the case and for a long time he doesn’t really get anywhere close to solving it (not as close as I got anyway!!). French ends up trailing a suspect to France and Spain before ending up in Holland which is of course famous for its diamond industry and he eventually solves the case. It took 250 pages to get there which is quite long for a vintage crime book. In fairness it is one of Freeman Wills Crofts earlier books and I think he did improve a lot over the years, he published his last book in 1957. I was glad to get to the end of this one anyway and on to something better – which is The Pastor’s Wife by Elizabeth von Arnim, and I’m happy to say that I’m really enjoying it although I haven’t got very far into it yet.

Jani and the Greater Game by Eric Brown

14 December 2014 00:14

Jani and the Greater Game by Eric Brown is a science-fiction book, more specifically it’s Steampunk and it’s the first Steampunk book which I’ve read. In fact the book was dedicated to Jack and myself, as you can see from the photo below. Eric Brown has been a full time science-fiction writer for 20 odd years but this is his first foray into Steampunk.

Book Dedication

 Jani and the Greater Game cover

I didn’t really know what to expect of this book but I was agreeably surprised, I really liked it and am now looking forward to reading the sequel, which I believe isn’t quite finished yet.

Janisha Chaterjee is an 18 year old who has been educated in Cambridge but her father, an Indian government minister is seriously ill, so Jani has returned to see him. On the way back home the airship she is travelling on is attacked and most of the other travellers are killed. Jani survives along with an old lady, Lady Eddington, whom she had befriended on the journey, who it turns out has influence in high places. They are helped by a strange looking being who had been a prisoner on the airship and he gives Jani what she thinks is a coin, before he legs it away from the Russian soldiers who are advancing on them.

So begins Jani’s adventure where she has to dodge the British army, Russian spies and a mysterious Indian holy man and his side-kick. Jani has difficulty deciding who can be trusted and her life is in danger from just about everyone it seems. Amongst the bad guys there are a few really likeable characters which is always a must for me to enjoy a book.

It turns out that steampunk books are a sort of combination of historical fiction and science-fiction. The atmosphere in this one is Victorian with some wonderful futuristic gadgets thrown in. Who wouldn’t love an enormous mechanical elephant which you can ride on and in?

Eric Brown did live in India for a few years so I’m presuming that the Indian parts are all authentic. Go on, if you’re new to steampunk too – give this one a go!

Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s Willow Tearooms, Glasgow

12 December 2014 23:25

Willow Tearooms  in Glasgow

On our recent stopover in Glasgow I had thought that we might have our lunch at one of The Willow Tearooms in the city. But we were too busy photographing the loads of gorgeous buildings nearby, so we ended up just having Cornish pasties – on the go. Next time we’ll be more organised.

Willow tea rooms

These tearooms were designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh – as I’m sure you will have realised. The photos above are of the tearoom at the bottom of Buchanan Street. You can read about them here. The actual tearoom is upstairs I believe.

The photos below are of the tearooms at the top of Sauchiehall Street. These have only fairly recently been opened as a tearoom again as the building had been taken over by a jewellers for some years.

Willow Tearooms

I think the windows of this one are wonderful. You can see images of the tearooms here.

Willow Tearooms

It was Miss Cranston who commissioned C.R. Mackintosh to design her tearooms for her and you can see the original interior in the Kelvingrove Art Galleries in the west end of Glasgow. There are more images of The Miss Cranston interior in the gallery here.

Nowadays of course there are gift shops alongside the tearooms. There’s so much Mackintosh inspired ‘stuff’ around that we have taken to calling it Mockintosh.

In fact I couldn’t resist buying some Mackintosh inspired fabric from the nearby Manders shop. I got a couple of yards in their sale, at a seventh of the original price! I have no idea what I’m going to use it for though.

Mackintosh fabric

My Snowy Garden

12 December 2014 00:23

Brrr! This is what I woke up to this morning.


I had somehow managed to forget that the move to the new house, much further away from the River Forth, would mean that we were likely to get much more snow. We did actually drive into Kirkcaldy today and sure enough – there was no snow there!

I’m not mad keen on snow, it’s fine to look out on as long as you have plenty of food in the house, but I hate the thought of having to travel in it. In my ideal world snow would only arrive for Christmas Day and disappear before everybody had to go back to work.

Yesterday I was saying – roll on the winter solstice and now I’m saying – roll on the spring weather. How we wish our lives away!

Buried for Pleasure by Edmund Crispin

10 December 2014 23:32

Buried for Pleasure was first published in 1948 and it’s a Gervase Fen mystery. If you enjoy wit and comedy served along with your crime fiction then this one will definitely be for you.

Gervase Fen is of course an Oxford professor but he has decided to branch out and run for parliament in the small rural constituency of Sanford Angelorm. The small town has more than its fair share of odd characters, which all adds to the fun.

Now for The Moving Toyshop by the same author, which I’ve just borrowed from the library.

I’m more or less on track to reach my goal of 100 books read this year. I did think that by this time I would have gone over 100 but the mild weather meant that I didn’t get as much reading done as usual. Also I’ve discovered that husbands when they’re retired (or maybe it’s just mine) take up quite a lot of your time, not that I’m complaining.

It’s now two weeks until Christmas so I have been busy blinging the place up, I might inflict some photos on you soon. I had intended to put a video of the garden on by now but it turned out that it was ten minutes long which is a bit problematical so I don’t know if that will happen now. Today we had our first snow of the winter but it didn’t lie and thankfully the east of Scotland has managed to dodge the worst of the stormy weather which has been battering the north and west of Scotland. It has been mainly grey and wet here, really dreich, so dark that you need to have lights on during the day so I’m pining for the 21st of this month, the winter solstice, when the daylight will begin to lengthen again. That date just cheers me up, just knowing that we’re on the right side of the year, as far as I’m concerned anyway.