Dad’s Army – the film 2016

I’m a big fan of Dad’s Army, I have all the DVDs but still never miss it when it’s on TV so I swithered about going to see the new film version, but given the fantastic cast I decided I had to give it a go.

We went to the nearest cinema which I hadn’t been to since seeing Gandhi there way back in 1982, we didn’t have to worry about getting babysitters then! I remember it because the cinema was completely packed out and I was sitting next to a man who smoked all the way through the film, so I saw it through a fug of smoke. It now seems so weird that people were ever allowed to smoke in cinemas and theatres. In the intervening years the cinema had changed completely and instead of normal seats it has lots of leather two seater sofas, as springy as a trampoline, but with lots of leg room for once, it was very comfy.

Anyway back to Dad’s Army. I really enjoyed it. It’s always going to be a big risk when something as legendary as Dad’s Army is updated but they did stick very much to the originals and the acting was mainly really good. Sir Michael Gambon is particularly good as Godfrey and Bill Nighy makes a good Wilson. They haven’t tried to do impressions of the originals but are similar types, the only one I thought didn’t quite hit it right was Tom Courtenay as Jones.

There are plenty of nods to the original series and also one to Braveheart which you can see if you look at the trailer below.

The Vet’s Daughter by Barbara Comyns

The Vet’s Daughter was first published in 1959 but I read a Virago reprint. It’s the third book that I’ve read by Comyns and I think that it is the one that I’ve liked least, although it seems to have been seen as something of a wonder when it first came out. It was apparently received with excitement, widely reviewed, praised by Graham Greene, reprinted, made into a play, serialised by the BBC and adapted as a musical.

It didn’t really appeal to me because I found it to be too dark and quite depressing. The story is told by Alice, the vet’s daughter, she lives with her parents in a poor part of London and her father is abusive, especially towards his wife. It’s a bit of a puzzle as to why he’s a vet as he has no love for animals, the vivisectionist arrives weekly to collect the unwanted puppies! Alice is just a drudge, having to clean out all the animal cages and run the house. Things just get worse as Alice’s mother suffers a lingering death, getting no sympathy from her husband.

He wastes no time in moving the local barmaid/tart into the house when his wife dies and so begins another round of misery for Alice as she has to clean up after the tart and her father’s moods are no better, he’s still a raging drunk who enjoys beating up his daughter.

There’s a brief respite for Alice when she moves away to the countryside to be a companion to an old lady, the mother of her father’s assistant. But that ends in tragedy too. Comyns has a thing about floating, I seem to remember that in Sisters by a River there was one of them who often seemed to float upstairs, or so she thought anyway. Something similar happens in this book too, but it has dire consequences. I found it to be an odd book. It happens to have been ‘born’ the same year that I was born and back then it may have been seen as quite fantastical which might account for it being so well received, but for me it just seemed a bit of a downer.

I read this one for the Classics Club Women’s Classic Literature Event 2016

Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh

Vile Bodies cover

Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh was first published in 1930 and it’s one of his books which satirizes the Bright Young Things of London in that era. The well connected ‘chinless wonders’ get up to all sorts of nonsense again and again. I really enjoyed Scoop which is another of his in the same vein, in fact I actually laughed out loud quite a lot as I read Scoop, if I’m remembering correctly. Vile Bodies didn’t quite hit the spot for me though. I suspect it’s my age, because now the silly stuff going on in the book and the characters peopling it seem too close to reality to be just a bit of fun.

At one point Waugh mentions that London is run by three families of brewers and the book is actually dedicated to Bryan and Diana Guinness, they were some of the Bright Young Things for whom rules didn’t apply and no doubt provided lots of gossip columnists with plenty of scandal in their time. Diana was Diana Mitford who left Bryan to run off with Oswald Mosley – that was even madder than anything in this book! Waugh was on the fringes of the Devonshire/Mitford set, he obviously got a lot of copy from them.

Mind you things do change, nowadays I think that London is run by Russians and Arabs, and the rules don’t apply to them either, which isn’t any better. Yes I am grumpy about it all!

I read this one for the Classics Club Challenge. Another one bites the dust.

Sunset Song – the film

Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon was published way back in 1932, it’s set in rural Scotland in the early 1900s and it tells of the hard life that the people had, particularly the women, especially if their husband was a brute, as Chris’s father was. Everything changes when World War 1 breaks out and so ends a way of life and life itself for so many of the menfolk. It has been dramatised by the BBC, quite successfully, in 1971. But it has been made into a film now, it’s never a good idea to try to squash a book into a film lasting a couple of hours and directed by Terence Davies. Anyway, we felt the need to go and check it out, so we took ourselves off to the Saturday matinee showing of it. The cinema was very busy, unusually so lots of people love the book and obviously lived in hope.

Almost from the beginning I was disappointed by the look of Chris, the main character who is in her last year of school. Her hair was so bouffant-ish – with the addition of a couple of plaits/braids. It looked like a very weird wig. Worse was to come though as for some unaccountable reason they chose an English actress to play the part of Chris, who is a young woman from The Mearns, a part of north-east Scotland, not far from Aberdeen. Poor soul, she tried to do a Scottish accent but really it was quite painful to the ear of an actual Scot. In fact I don’t think anybody had an authentic north east accent. Chris couldn’t even manage to say loch – never mind anything else. There must have been a Scottish actress who would have made a good job of the part, they can’t all be working on River City.

To be fair, the rural locations were lovely, it was beautifully set, as were the locations of the various houses involved in the film. I always get a lot of pleasure from looking at the furnishings in films, whether it’s a sumptuous palace or a poverty stricken cottage interior. I think the set designers did very well and to me nothing screamed out as being incongruous in its setting.

But that didn’t make up for the grating mock Scottish accent, and there were a couple of parts which I found almost embarrassingly bad. Particularly a scene when there were lots of people marching across fields, all making for – the church, whilst a very English sounding choir was singing incredibly loudly. That scene seemed to go on forever and I just kept thinking that if I had been the director it would definitely have ended up on the cutting room floor. I know that I’ve seen an almost identical scene in another film, I think it might have been How Green Was My Valley. I felt as if the director was doing a sort of daft homage to something anyway, and he really shouldn’t have, it was dire.

They eventually reached their destination, which was actually Arbuthnott Church, from the outside anyway. We visited the area with Peggy Ann of Peggy Ann’s Post when she stayed with us last May and we had a good look around the church but we weren’t able to see inside it. Anyway, the minister mounted the pulpit steps – a suspiciously new looking pulpit, and worst of all, he was wearing a surplice, one of those white smocky looking articles of clothing that English people seem to think are worn by all religious ministers/vicars/priests. They certainly aren’t and never have been worn by Church of Scotland ministers. Honest-tae-god, if there had been a wall handy I would have been banging my head off it!

To be fair there was some decent acting in the film, it just wasn’t being done by the main character and although there was a lot to fit into the film, considering the book, it still managed to be slow. The woman sitting beside me kept heaving huge sighs and peering at her watch!

I suspect that just about everyone in the cinema was there because they had read and loved the book, and in those circumstances it’s always going to be difficult to pull off a glorious success, but if you just love things Scottish, beautiful countryside and horses – as some people do, then you’ll probably find it worth watching.

A Walk in Balbirnie

I’ve been avoiding the woodland near our house for a while now as the rain has made the ground so boggy, and the snow and ice didn’t last long at all, so it was too horrible underfoot to walk there. And of course we’ve had horrendously high winds which makes woodland walks scary, quite a few trees have fallen over or branches have been ripped off them.

Wellies
But recently we bought new footwear, purple wellies for me, and Jack opted for shorter welly like boots – he complained that his old traditional wellies wore the hairs off his legs and nearly 40 years later he still has bald patches. I said that he should patent wellies as an alternative to leg waxing, they would be much cheaper I’m sure! I’m keeping the receipt for my purple wellies as the last pair of multicoloured ones I bought split after only around five outings in them, so if that happens again they’re going back to the shop.

Balbirnie Burn

This time as you can see we walked in a different direction along the side of the burn which is presumably what made people settle in this area as long as 5,000 years ago. You can see their graves in an old blogpost here.

Balbirnie Burn

Speaking of wearing purple,
Jenny Joseph wrote the poem Warning – about planning to grow old disreputably and just not caring what anybody thinks of you. But if like me you were a teenager in the 1970s you’ve probably always worn purple – and orange, sometimes together. I’ve not started on the brandy yet though! This poem has a lot of fans and there is even a Red Hat Society now

Warning
by Jenny Joseph

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick the flowers in other people’s gardens
And learn to spit

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

Jenny Joseph reads her poem below if you’re interested.

Foodie Friday – Cheshire Parkin

I’m not sure if Cheshire Parkin is any different from any other sort of parkin, but that’s what this recipe is called. Parkin is a traditional ginger cake from the north of England.

ginger cake  - parkin

225 g/ 8oz/ 2.5 cups of course oatmeal
75g/ 3oz/ three quarters of a cup of self-raising flour
50g/ 2 oz/ half a cup of demerara (brown) sugar
1 teaspoon of ground ginger
half a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
a pinch of salt
225g/ 8oz golden syrup or black treacle or mixture of both
125g/4oz/ 1 stick of margarine
70 ml/ 2.5 fluid oz of milk

1. Mix all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl.
2. Melt the syrup and margarine in a bowl and add to the dry ingredients.
3. Stir in the milk to make a soft consistency.
4. Grease a 20cm/8 inch round sandwich tin or a seven inch square tin and line it with greaseproof paper. Put the mixture into the tin and level it.
5. Bake in the middle of a moderate oven, Gas 4, 350 F or 180 C for around 1 hour, when it should be firm to the touch. Cut into squares.
6. Leave in tin to cool.

The recipe says that this is best left for a couple of days before eating but I have never been able to wait that long, in fact we had eaten some before I got around to taking a photo, which is why it looks rectangular, not square. Judge the syrup by how much is in the tin or bottle if you don’t have scales. I think it amounted to around 6 big rounded spoonfuls.

I left my parkin in too long, an hour in my new oven is too much, all ovens are different of course so you’re best to keep checking it. For me it was too hard but giving it a whizz in the microwave on medium softened it to the perfect consistency and it tastes really nice when it’s warm. Otherwise we ate it with custard!

Edinburgh

Last week when we were in Edinburgh visiting the Turner watercolour exhibition I took a few snaps of Princes Street. I don’t think we had been into the centre of the city since we went there with Peggy last May, and then we just visited the castle.

I took the photo below on our walk up to Princes Street from where we parked. The hills are Arthur’s Seat with Holyrood Palace’s rooftops in the foreground.
Arthur's Seat

So it was only last week that I realised that the much waited for trams still need a fankle (tangle) of wires above them to get along their track. For some reason I had assumed that in the 21st century someone would have thought up a way of trams being able to run without all that gubbins above them, seemingly not though as you can see from the photos below of Princes Street.

tram wires

The large rocket shaped monument is of course the Scott Monument, commemorating Sir Walter of course.

tram wires in Pinces Street

The tram wires aren’t so visible in the photo below of one of the side streets off Princes Street but in reality they look fairly ugly. I know I’m just a moaning-faced besom and the trams are very popular with people and at least they don’t pollute the streets the way the buses do – although the electricity still has to be made to run them, but the wires do nothing for Edinburgh.

tram wires

That day must have been one of the few days when the weather was good enough to go out and about. Recently it always seems to have been either too snowy, too windy or too wet – (sometimes all at the same time) to leave the house. I’ve been going stir crazy stuck at home, but on the other hand I have been getting a lot of reading done and it’s getting lovely and light now in the evenings/late afternoons.

I actually managed to do a wee bit of gardening one afternoon last week, between storms Gertrude and Henry . I planted a hellebore and a convolvulus. The ground is very squelchy as you would expect but everything is budding nicely so fingers crossed we don’t get a really hard frost. I also bought more Dutch iris bulbs and crocosmia Lucifer bulbs. I think Lucifer is lovely, I just hope it doesn’t turn out to be as invasive as the common crocosmia that I had in the old garden.

The Classic Spin – Cannery Row by John Steinbeck

I’ve just realised that I’m a day late doing this post for the Classics Club Spin number 11, particularly annoying as I finished reading John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row about a month ago. The book was first published in 1945 but the setting is Monterey, California during the Great Depression.

Cannery Row is a street full of sardine canneries, as you can imagine it isn’t the most salubrious of places. It’s smelly and the local workforce is mainly single men who need their comforts so there’s a local brothel which is owned by Dora Flood. She seems to be propping up the whole community as she is so heavily taxed on the whorehouse earnings. She takes great care of her girls, a madam with a heart of gold.

Lee Chong owns a grocer shop, he’s ever on the lookout for a business opportunity but at the same time he’s very easy going and is owed a lot of money from various customers. When a group of local men led by Mack hear that Lee Chong has become the owner of a warehouse they decide that it could be the perfect home for them. When they suggest to Lee Chong that they move in there he thinks it is best to go along with their wishes as otherwise they will probably destroy the warehouse anyway. The guys are well known troublemakers, not so much because they’re evil but they are so immature and stupid that even with the best of intentions everything they do ends in trouble for other people. Mack and the guys have evolved the prefect life/work balance for themselves, only working enough to be able to pay for their immediate needs and dodging work otherwise.

Doc is a marine biologist and lives just across the road from the grocery store. He lives by gathering marine specimens and sending them to various universities to be examined, as well as carrying out experiments himself. He’s also seen as being the local medical man although he’s unqualified, and he’s happy to patch people up when they need it.

Mack and the boys get it into their heads that it’s about time that they showed Doc their appreciation of him and they plan to give him a surprise party. You just know it’s going to be disastrous.

I really enjoyed Cannery Row, it’s funny and has a cast of likeable characters. It’s also a very quick read, just a novella really, but now I want to go on and read all of Steinbeck’s books. I’ll have to add them to my Classics Club list.

The Peacock Spring by Rumer Godden

The Peacock Spring cover

The Peacock Spring by Rumer Godden was first published in 1975 and the setting is mainly post independence India, but it begins in England where 14 year old Una and her 12 year old sister Halcyon are at boarding school as their father is based in India, he’s a diplomat and has custody of the girls after his divorce from Hal’s mother. Una is good at mathematics and is hoping to be able to go to Oxford to study maths there, eventually. So she’s dismayed when her headmistress calls her in to her office and tells her that her father has decided to take them out of school and they are to continue their education in India, with the help of a governess. Halcyon is thrilled by the prospect though, the sisters are opposites in character and Hal lives for pretty things and socialising, she’s a very precocious 12 year old.

As soon as they get to India Una realises that Alix the so-called governess, can’t teach them anything as she knows nothing of maths at all. She is however a very pretty Eurasian, half Indian and half European and as such is despised by the Indians and the British. Except for the girls’ father, who is obviously besotted by her and doesn’t see how manipulative, greedy and bad tempered Alix is.

I’ve always admired Godden’s writing and I really liked this book, although I’m sure it’s aimed at teenage girls as a warning as to what can happen if you get too involved with the opposite sex. Suffice to say that Una discovers that she is quite similar to her father in some ways.

It’s about prejudice, snobbery and class systems with a bit of Indian politics thrown into it and of course as Rumer Godden grew up in India, I’m sure she captured the atmosphere of the place as it was back then.

Beneath the Abbey Wall by A.D. Scott

Beneath the Abbey Wall by A.D. Scott is the third in this murder mystery series which is set in Inverness in the 1950s.

Again we’re back at the offices of a local newspaper – The Highland Gazette. Mrs Smart is a mainstay of the organisation and when she is found dead – murdered – the whole place is thrown into confusion. Mrs Smart more or less ran the place, without them really realising it.

Joanne Ross, one of the reporters, is now separated from her abusive husband, it’s a big step for a mother to have thrown her husband out, in a community where women are supposed just to put up with things.

The police are pretty useless and it’s left up to the newspaper staff to investigate Mrs Smart’s murder. During their probing all sorts of secrets come out, in fact nothing is as it seems, not even Joanne who seems so strong and sensible, it now looks like she is going to make the same mistake she did before. There’s no doubt that her brains turn to mush at the sight of a handsome man, no matter how he behaves towards her.

I enjoyed this mystery and the setting. There are quite a few likeable characters, I had an idea who the culprit was but these books are about more than the crime. They’re about how women were viewed in 1950s Scotland and how attitudes began to change, slowly. I’m looking forward to the next book and finding out what happens with McAllister and Joanne.

Although A.D. Scott doesn’t live in Scotland now she is very definitely a Scot and I read this one for the Read Scotland 2016 Challenge.