Every Day is Mother’s Day by Hilary Mantel

Every Day is Mother’s Day by Hilary Mantel was originally published in 1985 and it was Mantel’s first book to be published.

This is a strange one as the book has so many features in it which I dislike and would normally end up with me really hating a book but against all the odds I did enjoy the reading experience. For one thing it was a treat not to have to re-read sentences to get their meaning, as it’s well written and straight forward.

The main characters are Evelyn and Muriel Axon a mother and daughter who lead a reclusive life in a nice middle class area, however their house is uncared for, as are they. Muriel the daughter has special needs and is attending a day care centre, she has come to the attention of social services and Evelyn is determined to keep the social workers at bay. That’s quite easily done as Muriel’s file is constantly being passed on to different social workers. So when Muriel gets pregnant the only person who knows about it is her mother, and as it’s a toss up as to which of the Axons is dottiest it isn’t going to be a joyful experience.

Meanwhile their latest social worker seems even worse than they are, she manages to lose Muriel’s case file and is having an affair with a married man who to be fair to him is being swamped by kids as his wife keeps ‘starting’ babies, it’s a mystery why because their three existing kids are a ghastly bunch and would put anyone off having a family.

As I said it has so many elements I dislike, there are no likeable characters, most of them are very strange, a philandering husband, feckless wife, a woman trying to break up a family and a house with a horrible atmosphere. I gave it 3 stars on Goodreads, so why did I like it?

I think it was because although lots of the characters were people I really wouldn’t want to have much to do with myself I could see clearly what had led them to the bad decisions and actions which took place, and I sympathised to some extent, it was all very human. I’m looking forward to reading Vacant Possession, the sequel.

Apparently Hilary Mantel, (I suppose I should now say Dame Hilary) did work in a social work department in her early working life, it was obviously a source of good copy for her.

Hilary Mantel was reported to have been rather nasty about the then pregnant Duchess of Cambridge during a speech on royalty.

You can read the very long speech here.

I don’t agree with what she said about the duchess, for one thing she doesn’t seem to know that William Wales chose Catherine because like many young people he fell in love with a young woman that he was at university with. I’m sure it was nothing to do with her being thin or her good manners. There’s a brain there, which is more than can be said for some of the others in the royal family.

Peebles by the River Tweed

A couple of weekends ago Jack and I went to Peebles to meet up with Evee of Evee’s Blog who lives in Peebles and also to have a mooch around the annual Peebles Peace Group booksale. The photo below is me on the right looking fat in my raincoat, it had been bucketing with rain all the way until we got to Peebles. I don’t think I’m that hefty, it was the bulky jumper I was wearing underneath which did it – honest! Evee is on the left of course and is looking svelte due to the paleo diet which she is having great success with.

Evee + Katrina
We started to walk along the banks of the River Tweed, at this point the pathway is wide and flat as you can see but it isn’t long before you have to scramble over tree roots and go up and down close to the banks of the river and it got muddier and muddier as we walked along.

Bridge at Peebles

The photo above is of the bridge at Peebles town and we walked over that to get to the riverside path.

The photo below is the view looking back in the direction of Peebles.

River Tweed

It doesn’t give any impression of the speed of the river which was really fast and fierce. We probably wouldn’t have gone on the walk at all if we had realised how windy it was. Due to a combination of the wrong footwear, mud and a howling gale, poor Evee came a cropper three times, the third time she had an alarming close encounter with her camera as she fell. Worryingly she was bleeding quite badly from a cut above her eye where her camera caught her. Even worse than that though was the news a few days later that she had cracked a few ribs too! It could have been disastrous though as at the time Evee and I were both worried about being blown into the River Tweed as we were so close to the banks and the wind was so strong. I had a vision of us both being human Poohsticks and Jack hanging over the bridge to see which one of us passed under it first – drowned of course.

River Tweed

Neidpath Castle loomed up through the trees, annoyingly this one isn’t open to the public although you can hire it for your wedding if you are that way inclined. You can see more images of it here.

Neidpath Castle

And below is a much closer photo. That chunk of stonework in the foreground seems to match the bite which is missing from the castle wall at the top.

Neidpath Castle

The photo below is of Jack and Evee, taken before Evee had her accident. Although Evee and I had met up before in Edinburgh this was a first meeting for Jack and Evee. Evee and I only got to know each other through blogging which has turned out to be a great way of meeting friends whether in reality or just online.

Evee + Jack

Amazingly in early May fellow blogger Peggy Ann of Peggy Ann’s Post is coming to Scotland all the way from Pennsylvania to visit us for a month, she’ll be seeing various internet friends while she’s here, as well as Evee and myself, the four of us are going up to the Highlands for a few days. Fingers crossed for good weather! All because of the internet. Peggy Ann has always wanted to visit Scotland so she’s just about off the scale with excitement about the whole thing. I’m still biding my time before crossing to the other side of that pond, waiting for that ‘Beam me up Scotty’ gadget.

Clean Reader

I remember seeing something online somewhere which mentioned a Clean Reader App and I vaguely thought to myself that something like that would have been handy in the days when I was having to choose books for very straitlaced women within my own family. I thought it would just come up with suitable reading suggestions for those types who hate mentions of swearing and anything racy or too ‘near the knuckle’.

It never occurred to me that it was an app which removes what are seen to be offensive words and replaces them with words deemed to be more acceptable.

It was only when I read this article in today’s Guardian that I realised this.

Joanne Harris who wrote Chocolat is claiming a small victory after the couple behind the app removed all titles from its online catalogue.

I’m not a wild sweary beast myself although on occasions when no other words fit the moment I’m cursing with the best of us on a daily basis, just look at the news and that’ll get anyone swearing, but it seems to me to be madly arrogant to take it upon yourself to muck around with a writer’s words, without so much as a by your leave.

This whole idea seems to have been thought up by a couple who are of a religious persuasion who have set themselves up as censors of the written word. I bet you that when Jesus Christ was doing his stuff in the Holy Land he was not averse to using the odd swear word himself, he had good reason to after all. That turning of the tables in the temple would almost certainly have been accompanied by a good few blue words thrown at those moneychangers/rabbis! Those app people are setting themselves up to be better than Jesus Christ.

But I suppose this whole idea is just the extreme version of what has been going on over some years, like the updating of Enid Blyton’s books, changing the whole character of them and the expunging of that ‘n’ word from works written when it was actually common. It’s like trying to airbrush things out of history and that can never be a good thing.

Harris said on Friday: “I don’t see what changes they can make to stop it being an offensive app. But there is nothing which stops them from starting again quietly once things have died down. It’s a question of watching.”

And as writers applauded the announcement, others mourned it. One supporter of the app wrote: “The fact is that we readers would love to hear some of your creative stories without the icky unnecessary junk language.

“There are some really great and important literary works that are eliminated from our study because I’m not willing to compromise our standards. Not for myself or for our kids.”

Harris replied in a blogpost: “Shakespeare wrote icky unnecessary junk language. So did Chaucer, DH Lawrence, Philip Larkin, James Joyce.

“If a reader chooses to avoid reading my books, that’s fine. She has that right. If she hates it, that’s also fine. If she has opinions on how it could have been done better, that’s also fine, because she’s entitled to her opinion, whether I agree or not. BUT – her opinion does not extend to changing my work in any way. My book, my rules, and that includes my words. ALL of them.”

Top Gear: Not Top Bloke

I must admit that I gave up watching Top Gear about a lifetime ago, in recent years I’ve only seen bits of it when I’ve been flicking to something more interesting.

So it has been something of a mystery to me that the carrying on of those three chaps makes headlines from time to time, with their disciples grumbling when the bad behaviour goes over the top in case they get the sack.

Surely though it’s obvious to everyone that the latest nonsense happened because they were about to negotiate new contracts with the BBC. Obviously the fact that the programme is sold all over the world makes a lot of money for the BBC and those three presenters probably felt that they should be getting paid more than they were.

I know I’m a cynic but surely everyone realises that the whole fracas was orchestrated with the intention of getting away from the BBC and on to pastures new which have much more lucrative remunerations.

Stand by for those three chaps appearing on Sky or some other commercial station, on a programme with much the same premise as Top Gear, but the name of – Vrooming Brilliant or something similar, fill in your own idea for the new name!

The whole thing reminds me of those people who want to get out of a relationship but don’t have the guts to dump their partner because they don’t want to be perceived as being nasty. So they behave badly until their partner eventually dumps them. Result! they shout as they skip off footloose and fancy free, claiming to have been badly treated by their ex-partner.

Those Top Gear guys just don’t want to be seen as being greedy by their fans, who might not be able to afford to see them on whatever commercial platform picks them up. If you want to know what fuels Jeremy Clarkson, his raison d’etre, just have a look at his appearance on Who Do You Think You Are? that programme which looks back at family trees. The only thing which he was interested in was – where’s the money!

The Little Girls by Elizabeth Bowen

The Little Girls cover

The Little Girls by Elizabeth Bowen was first published in 1964.

I don’t think I’ve ever read anything else by Elizabeth Bowen, if I did it was way back in the year dot, but I know that she has a lot of loyal fans so I thought I would be on to a winner with this one. How wrong I was!

I really felt like giving up on this book very early on, something which I almost never do, I ploughed on thinking that it would get better and it must be my fault that I wasn’t enjoying it. I now wish I hadn’t wasted my time.

The Little Girls is about three women in their 50s who had been friends at school when they were eleven years old in 1914. They hadn’t kept in touch with each other over the years and only recently got in contact with each other again. There’s supposed to be a mystery, something which happened in their past, but really the characters are so unlikeable that I couldn’t care less about any of them and the so called mystery was just boring.

Apart from that the book is very dialogue heavy, it’s almost all dialogue which wouldn’t be too bad if the writing itself was good, but I found myself having to re-read the same sentences again and again because the words had been written in unusual order, making it read as if Yoda was speaking. Sadly I couldn’t find the part of the book which annoyed me most, it was really unintelligable, as if there must have been a few missing crucial words. My bit of paper marking the page fell out, but here’s another excerpt, this bit is just clunky and there’s a lot like it in the book, judge for yourself:

Instead she trod with crushing deliberation from one to another and then the next of the carpet’s barely distinguishable roses. The child had been (each time, through inability to get away in time) in the distasteful presence of grown up persons who became ‘overcome’ – whether by heat, sea sickness, vertigo, stage fright or bad news. Of inferior calibre did she find them. With more like sympathy she had watched one soldier after another faint on parade.

I don’t think you should have to re-read sentences to work out what is being said. Maybe I shouldn’t have read it as a bedtime book. Anyway, I’m now beginning to read Hilary Mantel’s Every Day is Mother’s Day and I hope I have more joy with that one.

Poldark and the burglar alarm

I know that some fans of the original Poldark series have decided to give the new adaptation a complete swerve, but I decided to watch it for the glimpses of Cornwall, more than anything else. It’s a 600 mile journey from Fife, so it’s not handy for me. I’ve only had one holiday in Cornwall, and it rained most of the time! But I do love it there, especially that green colour of the edges of the sea which I’ve never seen anywhere else. And I have spied that green shade in the background in quite a few scenes.

Poldark - BBC adaptation showing burglar alarm

But I must admit that I’m mainly watching the new Poldark for nit-picking purposes because I loved the first series so much I didn’t think it could be improved. So I have been sitting grumbling about the gangliness of the new Demelza who is about the same height as Ross and the foppishness of George Warleggan who was supposed to be rather rough looking as befitted his more plebeian antecedents and who was so well played by the sadly now late Ralph Bates. Ralph Bates as George Warleggan

George Warleggan and Ross Poldark were forever having fights of the fisticuffs variety and the new Warleggan looks like he couldn’t fight his way out of a wet paper bag.

I live in hope of this series getting better but I somehow doubt it will as they have made such glaring mistakes as having a burglar alarm in full view on a building, as can be seen in the first photo above. Oh dearie me!

Recent Book Purchases

I had been meaning to visit Evee and Peebles for ages, but life got in the way, mainly all that house selling and moving stress. But we managed to get down to Peebles a few weekends ago and took the chance to visit the Peebles Peace Group annual book sale. What an amount of books they had gathered together for the sale! All sorts of books although the fiction was mainly modernish I did manage to pick up a few oldies as you can see, if you twist your neck, sorry about that I should have rearranged the photo.

Katrina's books

As you can see, Jack reigned himself in compared with me, as usual. I might read these ones too sometime.
Jack's books

I bought:

The Gardens of the National Trust by Stephen Lacey
Marion Alive by Vicki Baum
Hickory Dickory Dock by Agatha Christie
The Lowlands of Scotland – Glasgow and the North by Maurice Lindsay
A Cathedral Courtship by Kate Douglas Wiggin
Penelope’s Experiences in Scotland by Kate Douglas Wiggin
Those Fragile Years by Rose Franken
Hans Andersen His Classic Fairytales. Illustrated by Michael Foreman

Some Whispers from Fairyland (lovely illustrations) was bought from the Oxfam shop in Stockbridge, Edinburgh

At Peebles Jack bought:
The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

The other two, Luka and the Fire of Life by Salman Rushdie
Promised Land by Connie Willis and Cynthia Felice, he bought elswhere.

A great day out was had by all, I’ll show you some photos of our walk along the banks of the River Tweed soon.

Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson

Notes From a Small Island cover

Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson was first published in 1995. In it he tells of the grand tour of Britain which he took just before he left Britain with his wife and family. They were going back to his homeland the US for a time, to give his children the experience of living in his homeland.

I found this to be an amusing read, in fact Bryson now says of his earlier writing that he felt he had to have a laugh a page, which he just about has in this one. There are some parts which are quite hilarious, and others which are quite depressing.

For me it was a bit of a reminder of some of Britain’s past, such as the mayhem of the Thatcher years and all the industrial strife. It’s all history now, they study it in school!

The book begins with those sorts of pub conversations which I was amazed to witness when I moved down to the south of England, they might be still taking place for all I know. Those ones where men of a certain type witter on about the best way of getting from A to B – bizarre, and I’m glad that I’m not the only one who thinks so.

Over the last few years Jack and I have been doing road trips around Britain too, so I had visited a lot of the places which Bryson visited. I was surprised that he wasn’t all that enamoured with either Oxford or Cambridge. He can be a bit sniffy about modern buildings. He wasn’t at all impressed with Cambridge with its market place surrounded by concrete buildings, I wonder if he meant the art deco ones which we admired. He should have taken a closer look at the market too as it has great secondhand book stalls, I bought several, including a hard to find Angela Thirkell.

He does however love Durham and I agree with him on that, it was a big surprise to me how lovely it is – and nobody ever mentions it as a place to visit.

When Bryson gets to Scotland he’s surprised that it feels like a different country from England and Wales. I’m always amazed when people say that, I find it weird that they would think that Scotland should be just like England, with worse weather. He had some trouble understanding people in a pub in Glasgow, which is fair enough as I had no idea what two men from Fife who I happened to overhear talking today were saying, and I’ve lived in Fife for donkey’s years.

It isn’t all humour, there are some important observations too, such as the fact that the north of Britain has lost over 100 times the amount of jobs which the south of Britain has. He wondered what was going to happen to a country which had got rid of most of its industries, it worried him.

Of course we know now what happens when there is very little in the way of opportunities and work for people, it’s a disaster for the economy and for society. I could go on about that problem for a long time.

Bryson went back to America with his wife and young family after this book was published but they didn’t stay there long. It seems that England is where his heart is. I’m looking forward to reading his next book which is due out in the Autumn.

Spitting Image – Politics and Royalty

I know that we’re in dire straits and all that but I can’t help feeling that we are in even more need of a good laugh than we were way back in the glory days of Spitting Image. What has happened to satire? Here we are in the middle of a General Election campaign and there’s nothing poking fun at politicians. I think perhaps that things are so bad that we’re reaching the weeping stage.

Anyway, I was having a trawl through You Tube the other day, what a nostalgic trip that was! I hope you can see these clips if you happen to be on the other side of the world even if it is all ancient History now.

Hill of Tarvit Mansion House and Scotstarvit Tower

This morning during our 50 minute round walk for the Guardian I actually felt heat from the sun on my legs. Spring has sprung and the daffodils are nearly open. So in the afternoon we decided to hop along to Hill of Tarvit Mansion House and have a walk around the woodland there before heading down the driveway to visit the nearby Scotstarvit Tower which we hadn’t been to before. Hill of Tarvit was designed by the architect Sir Robert Lorimer.

Hill of Tarvit 1

The photo below is obviously just taken from a bit further back. I couldn’t get onto the croquet lawn to get a better view as the whole area was covered with huge tents, they had had a bit of a do at the weekend, maybe a wedding.

Hill of Tarvit House

These fine fat fellows were in a field at the edge of the driveway on the way to Scotstarvit Tower. These are tubby lambs, very different from the newborns which we had passed in fields not far from there. It depends on the variety of sheep I think, as to when they give birth. These ones with black stockings are very cute though. They’re like tubby toddlers.

sheep

Below is Scotstarvit Tower, you can get a key for it from Hill of Tarvit House, but we didn’t bother, next time we will though as what we could see through an arrow slit window looked quite interesting. It was originally built in the 1500s by the Inglis family.

Scotstarvit Tower

Below is a photo of the Lomond Hills which I always think of as being very tame and almost English looking, they’re a very easy stroll up on a good day. It’s the view of them that you get from the road leading to Scotstarvit Tower.

Lomonds

With all that walking involved I think we must have exercised more than double our target for each day. Let’s hope it has an effect on the scales!