From the Guardian Review

Eric Ravilious Train Landscape

In Saturday’s Guardian Review section Michael Prodger wrote about Eric Ravilious who was a World War 2 war artist who didn’t survive the conflict. You can read the article here. I’ve always loved his art but all I have of his is a Wedgwood dinner plate which was designed by him. Prodger seems to think that Ravilious’s paintings of England were of a place which never really existed but the Train Landscape above brings back memories for me of sitting in a train compartment exactly like that one, going to visit an aunt in Sussex. The only difference is that the chalk figure picked out on the hillside was the Long Man of Wilmington, not a horse. You can see more work by Ravilious here.

Sarah Crompton writes about Poldark, old and new, here.

And if you’re interested in Orson Welles and particularly Citizen Kane you might be interested in reading this article by Peter Bradshaw.

Ancient Doocot at Elcho, Perth and Kinross

Elcho

I was beginning to think that we must have taken a wrong turning when we were trying to find Elcho Castle, but eventually we reached this ancient dovecote or doocot as we say in Scotland. The doocot would have been used for pigeons to nest in in the castle’s heyday, an important source of meat for the inhabitants.

Elcho

I said in my earlier Elcho post here that you have to drive through a working farmyard to reach the castle and it’s just by the doocot, this sort of millpond is just across the road and as you can see there’s a barn in the background. There are a few wee cottages there too, it looks an idyllic place to live but it’s incredibly isolated and I think they must be cut off in bad winters.

Elcho

But to have a burn running through my garden like this one I wouldn’t mind living in a doocot, not that anyone does live in this one but I’m sure you could get some light into the place somehow nowadays. It’s like something out of a fairy tale, it would be almost as good as living in a lighthouse – something which I’ve always fancied!

A Garden Update

garden rockery

I thought it was about time I showed you how my garden is getting on again. This is the rockery, as you can see from all the gubbins in the background I’ve been hard at it, hauling stuff about in buckets – gravel, turf, weeds and soaking the roses before planting them in the garden. Since I took the photo the grass has been cut, it was reports of rain to come which galvanised Jack into that action, and indeed the rain did appear this evening but we can’t complain as we’ve been basking in warm sunshine for days now with the daytime temperatures being way above average.

The photo below was taken about a year ago, just after we moved to our new place, and I was just marking out the general shape of the rockery. The main reason for having one was to get rid of the grass and cheer the place up a bit. We couldn’t budge the concrete blocks which can be seen at the top of the photo, they had been the base of the previous owner’s summerhouse so we ended up sticking another summerhouse on top of them.

garden

Below is a photo of that part of the garden as it is now, well actually it looks a bit better now as we have added Rosemary tiles (standard red roofing tiles) to the bottom of the summerhouse/shed at the front, just to hide the unsightly base. I’m growing a low box hedge around the rest of it. We have created a sitooterie area just outside the summerhouse, that’s what I’ve been doing this week, there’s still work to be done but I feel that we’ve made good progress.

garden

The garden design is completely different from what I imagined I would do when we moved here just over a year ago. It was just a sea of grass and I had planned to make a large pond more or less in the middle of it, with a wooden walkway across it linking the two areas. Then in July I realised that the midges in this new garden are hellish. Midges don’t normally bother me but I’m fairly sure that if these ones were analysed they would discover that they have shark DNA in them! So I decided that much as I would love a pond I couldn’t be doing with the millions of beasties which would arrive with it. Also the garden is more or less south facing so when the sun shines there’s not a lot of shade so any pond would end up being a thick green soup in no time. At the moment I’m making do with an old enamel bowl which the birds drink from but I plan to buy an old stone sink so that they can have a nice bath too. I had a lovely sink in my old garden, but of course I left it there. I’ve lost count of the number of times over the last year that I’ve thought to myself – I wish I hadn’t left that behind – about umpteen things!

Rachel Ray by Anthony Trollope

Rachel Ray by Anthony Trollope was first published in 1863.

Luke Rowan is a young man who has inherited a half share of a brewery in Baslehurst and when he goes to the town with the intention of playing a full part in the business he discovers that the other partner, a much older man, is antagonised by the thought of a youngster trying to tell him how to run his business. In fact Mr Tappitt is surprised that Luke Rowan even exists as he had been under the impression that when his partner died then the business would all be in his hands. Luke realises that the beer which is brewed there is truly ghastly stuff and knows he can make far more of a profit if he can take charge.

Mrs Tappitt expects to marry one of her daughters off to Luke but he falls in love with Rachel Ray who is the youngest daughter of a widow who has two daughters, the older one is a young widow called Mrs Prime and she is a miserable evangelical Christian who enjoys thinking the worst of everyone, including her sister. When Mrs Prime sees Rachel talking with Luke she concludes that there is an improper liaison between them and the ensuing gossip coupled with the Tappitts’ anger leads to him leaving the town.

Mrs Ray and Mrs Prime both have spiritual advisors. Mr Comfort is the old vicar from whom Mrs Ray asks for advice and Mr Prong fulfills the same duty for Mrs Prime. I just love the way Trollope names his characters leaving no doubt as to what he thinks of them himself.

Mr Prong is an evangelical minister who enjoys the adoration of a group of women called the Dorcas Society, they spend their spare time making small pieces of clothing for the deserving poor, and pulling the reputations of their neighbours apart. When Mr Prong asks Mrs Prime to marry him she is at first quite taken with the idea, it would mean that she would have the highest standing amongst the other women. But since her first husband’s early death she has been comfortably off and an independent woman, it’s a situation which she isn’t keen to give up.

Mrs Prime asks about to find out if she can hold on to her own money if she marries Mr Prong and when she discovers that her money would be legally his to do with as he wishes she asks him to allow her to have control of her money. It’s a situation which he is not willing to accept and he takes umbrage, feeling that his wife should trust him with her money. Mr Comfort thinks that Mr Prong is very likely to run off with the money the minute he is married, leaving his wife abandoned and destitute, apparently it was a common occurrence.

I really enjoyed this one which was originally supposed to be published as a serial in a Christian magazine but due to Trollope’s attitude to the clergy they declined to publish it. Mrs Prime and Mr Prong are similar to the characters of Mrs Proudie and Mr Slope from the Barchester series.

I’m quite surprised that Rachel Ray is not as popular as it should be, There’s quite a lot of comedy in it and I love that Trollope was fighting for the rights of middle-class women who by law were completely at their husbands’ mercy financially and had no right to own and control their own property. Trollope’s observations on humans are absolutely spot on, he could have been a psychologist, if such a being had existed in his day, we’re lucky that it wasn’t an option open to him otherwise we wouldn’t have had his books.

At the moment I’m half-way through Orley Farm which appeared as a favourite in the Guardian’s Trollope article recently which you can see here. So far though it isn’t getting close to being one of my favourites.

I read Rachel Ray as part of Karen @ Books and Chocolate’s Trollope Centennial Celebration.

Elcho Castle, Perthshire, Scotland

We’ve been having fab weather recently and as we were travelling to Perthshire again to visit our youngest son we thought we would set off early and squeeze in a visit to Elcho Castle on the way. I must admit that I had never even heard of Elcho until recently. It’s very far off the beaten track, unlike many castles which you can see clearly from roads. Elcho is a 16th century tower house, one of the best preserved in Scotland. It’s a combination of a keep and a mansion house, it was built for defence but by the time it was finished there was not much fear of it being attacked.

Elcho is miles down a narrow road and you think you’re never going to get to it, you even have to drive through a farmyard, but when you get there it’s definitely worth it as you can see.

Elcho Castle

Elcho Castle still has its roof on although some of the internal floors are no longer in existence you still get a feeling of how it must have been in its heyday.

Elcho  Castle

The photo above is of the main staircase which is quite a bit wider than in most castles of this age. There are a lot of much narrower spiral staircases all around the castle, those ones were meant to be used by the staff who weren’t supposed to use these ones.

Elcho Castle

That wider staircase leads to the room above which is the grandest room, it’s full of light on a bright day anyway, it must have been lovely when it was all furnished, panelled and hung with tapestries.

And below is a view of the River Tay from the top of the castle. As you can see it’s a great location. The castle has always been accessed by river and road but given that the road nowadays is very twisty turny and narrow I think that most people and ‘stuff’ would have been taken to and from the castle via boat.

Elcho Castle

I have lots more photos to show you but I’ll leave that for tomorrow. If you’re interested in the architectural details of this building you can read more here.

The Murder Stone by Louise Penny

The Murder Stone by Louise Penny is the fourth book in the Chief Inspector Gamache series and I’m so glad that I decided to read them all in order as the relationships between Gamache and his detective colleagues are developing nicely.

The Quebec village of Three Pines plays hardly any part in this book although Reine-Marie Gamache does stay there in the B&B whilst her husband solves the murder which has taken place when they were on their annual visit to the auberge which they had visited over 30 years ago for the first time.

The Manoir Bellechasse is one of the finest auberges in Quebec and the Finney family has also checked in, they consist of an elderly mother with her four middle aged children, their spouses and Mrs Finney’s second husband. They use the auberge for their annual reunion and this time around it’s a bit different as a huge statue of Mrs Finney’s first husband is being unveilled in the grounds of the auberge. It’s not something which the owner of the hotel particularly wants in the grounds but a large amount of money has been paid to her to accomodate the statue.

The Finney/Morrow family is a poisonous one with even the mother being cruel and vindictive, they all look down their noses at other people, particularly the Gamaches who they have decided are too common for the hotel. They all have long memories and take particular joy in hurting each other psycholgically. When a murder is committed there’s a plethora of suspects for Gamache to question.

I really liked this one despite the fact that I worked out how the murder had been committed long before Gamache did. It was good to discover more about Peter and Clara, the artist couple in Three Pines and to find out more about Gamache’s family background

The Foundling by Georgette Heyer

The Foundling by Georgette Heyer is quite different from the other romances which I’ve read by her. For one thing it isn’t really a romance as close to the beginning the young Duke of Sale is pushed into agreeing to marry an old childhood friend and cousin, Lady Harriet. The Duke was orphaned at a very young age and his guardian and uncle Lord Lionel has molly-coddled him all his life as he was a rather weak and sickly child.

Lord Lionel likes to be in control of everything and his over-bearing attitude makes Sale wish he wasn’t an aristocrat so when a relative gets into some woman trouble, Sale jumps at the chance to help out, leaving his aristocratic trappings behind and travelling as an ordinary chap.

He finds himself in all sorts of adventures and serious scrapes which he manages to extricate himself from and his experiences end up giving him the confidence which he needed to stand up for himself against all the relatives and staff who are so keen to control his life.

The character of Belinda, a young woman who has also run off from her former life makes for quite a lot of comedy as she agrees to go off with any man who says he will buy her a purple silk gown. It’s quite a task for the Duke to save her from her daftness.

It’s an enjoyable romp.

Winter Pansies

Winter Pansies

Above is a photo of the winter pansies and ivy which I planted before Christmas, in the hope of having some cheery colour in the garden during the winter.

But it wasn’t to be, the pansies hardly flowered at all until we got a wee bit of heat and quite a lot of sunshine recently. This always happens with me and winter pansies, they seem to be a misnomer in my neck of the woods anyway, perhaps our winters are too cold and dark.

What is more annoying though is the state of the jute liner of the wrought iron basket which has been nicked by blackbirds as nesting material. I’ve been looking at other people’s jute basket liners and they seem to be intact. I must just have particularly badly behaved birds in my garden.

The Heat of the Day by Elizabeth Bowen

If you read my recent review of Elizabeth Bowen‘s book The Little Girls you’ll be surprised that I decided to read another of her books. It was a shock to me, in fact when I logged on to My Library Account I was aghast to see that I had requested this book. That’s what happens when you look at blogs late at night and it’s just too easy to click and request books which other bloggers have enjoyed. Luckily I did like this book as much as the other blogger did, sadly I can’t remember which blog it was, do let me know if it was you!

Anyway The Heat of the Day which was first published in 1948 did turn out to be a far better read than The Little Girls, in fact it seems that it was Elizabeth Bowen’s most successful book, I imagine that’s because of the subject matter. The book is based mainly in London during World War 2 which is where Bowen herself was based at the time and she seems to capture the atmosphere of the place perfectly as you would expect from someone who lived through the bombing.

The main character, Stella is a middle aged woman who is having a relationship with Robert who is a few years younger than her. She works for the government. Robert was wounded at Dunkirk, and it seems to have had a psychological effect on him. Depending on his mood his limp can be bad or almost completely unnoticeable.

Stella is divorced and has a son Roderick in the army, his father died soon after the divorce and eventually Roderick inherits an estate in Ireland on the death of a cousin. Ireland was a neutral country and it wasn’t possible for him to travel there as he was in the army. Stella travels there to see to his business affairs, back to the place where she had spent her honeymoon. It’s suffering from the same deprivation as Britain with candles and even matches being in short supply.

Harrison is also working for the government, he’s a counter spy and he’s haunting Stella whom he has fancied from afar for years. He tells her that Robert is suspected of being a spy.

Nothing is as it seems in this book as you would expect from a spy story. Looking at Bowen’s own life it’s easy to see that she used a lot of her own experiences to write it, with a character who suffers from mental infirmity (supposedly) and she herself inherited an estate in Ireland.

This book is regarded as one of the best portrayals of London during the bombing raids of World War 2, when people lived for the moment, never knowing if they were going to wake up in the morning or not.

The book was adapted for TV in 1989.