The Dance of the Seagull by Andrea Camilleri

29 January 2015 23:29

Dance of the Seagull cover

The Dance of the Seagull by Andrea Camilleri was first published in 2013 and it’s another one which I have seen on TV but that didn’t detract from my enjoyment of it.

The setting is of course Sicily. Salvo Montalbano’s long-suffering girlfriend Livia is expecting to be going on holiday with him but he makes a last minute trip to the police station where he discovers that his colleague Fazio is missing. All thoughts of Livia go straight out of his mind as he begins a frantic search for Fazio.

Watching the TV programme I had always been a bit puzzled by the Montalbano/Livia relationship and this book makes it clear that it’s a romance of long-standing which has just run out of steam. He just isn’t into her that much now – as the modern term goes.

There’s plenty of comedy and I was particularly amused when early on in the book Livia tells Montalbano that he might want to avoid a particular part of the town where they are filming Montalbano, unless he wants to bump into the actor who is playing him. Montalbano complains that the actor is far too young and bald to be him, and he is because it seems that he is actually 57 years old – in the book anyway.

This is another good read, I just wonder if all of the books have been dramatised?

Kirkcaldy’s Tesco – closing down

28 January 2015 23:40

It’s well known that the supermarket chain Tesco has been having a hard time of it recently, their profits have been cut to about £squillion, instead of their usual 0.5 £squillion. So it was no surprise that they intended to close some of their stores, however I was gobsmacked when it was announced on the Scottish news tonight that one of the stores closing is to be the Kirkcaldy one. As they were asking some customers how they felt about the news I was even more surprised to see my friend Christine’s husband on the TV saying how gutted he feels about it. I feel exactly the same, although we recently moved out of the town we still travelled to Kirkcaldy to do our grocery shopping. It’s the shop we are used to and we know the staff, and it’s also a reasonable size. I can’t stand bigger shops as I feel exhausted almost before I start – if I can’t see the end of the shop. I know it means loads of walking searching for what I want, and probably giving up on finding it altogether.

Apparently it is one of their ‘loss-making’ stores, I really can’t understand how that can be because it is the busiest supermarket which I’ve been in. It doesn’t matter when you go there are always a lot of shoppers in it. It’s the only supermarket in Kirkcaldy town centre, it’s close to the bus station so is handy for people who don’t have a car. Tesco closing means that if you don’t have a car you have to make your way to a supermarket on the edge of town, or half-way to Glenrothes, by bus.

What is more, the only Post Office remaining in Kirkcaldy town centre is located inside the Tesco store, so what is going to happen there. Are we going to be left with no Post Office in Kirkcaldy?!

The employment situation in Kirkcaldy has always been dire, in fact it’s dire in the whole of Fife and I really feel for the members of staff who are going to be made unemployed, it’s not going to be easy for them to find another job. Is there any point in starting a campaign to keep the Kirkcaldy store open? It looks like it’s a done deal, but I would like to see the evidence that the store is actually loss making, it seems hardly possible to me.

It’s just a blessing that Kirkcaldy’s famous Tesco cat popped off to cat heaven in the summer! How many supermarkets had a resident cat to greet you in the doorway? If you want to know more about him have a look at the short film below.

Not Starry Starry Night – Vincent van Gogh

25 January 2015 23:49

As it’s Burns Night tonight I made the vegetarian haggis from the recipe which was in the Guardian earlier in the week. You can see it here. I’m not inflicting a photo of my version as haggis is never appetising looking but it tasted good anyway. I changed it slightly, substituting soy sauce for the Marmite as I hate the stuff and I added more pulses in the shape of haricot and cannellini beans. I also halved the quantities as there are only the two of us around the table nowadays, but I still have plenty leftover – so no cooking required tomorrow, luxury!

Below is a photo of the 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle which we began about a week ago when the weather was really cold and we were just semi hibernating. It didn’t take us as long as I thought it would. The worst part was definitely the road/pavement at the bottom of the picture, the cobble stones. I originally thought it was Starry Starry Night (or The Starry Night) but it isn’t. It’s The Cafe Terrace at Night.

jigsaw puzzle

Now when you are reading or saying van Gogh remember to pronounce the ‘gh’ properly – a lovely guttural sound as in the word ‘loch’ – none of this Vincent van Go nonsense! In fact the first G should be guttural too.

I’m now searching for another jigsaw puzzle which I bought recently, it’s of a British Rail poster of The Trossachs. I tidied it away before Christmas and now I can’t find it, don’t you just hate when that happens. That’s my excuse for preferring clutter, at least then I know where everything is!

Have you seen the Laurel and Hardy film which is about a disaster which befalls Ollie when Stan starts a jigsaw puzzle – hilarious.

Dead Cold by Louise Penny

23 January 2015 23:01

Dead Cold by Louise Penny is the second book in Penny’s Armand Gamache series, the setting is Three Pines which is a small village in Quebec. This book is absolutely full of twists and turns and kept me guessing right to the end, but apart from that it’s a great read all round.

Three Pines is described as something which looks like it has come alive from a Christmas card design. In fact I was thinking it’s like Brigadoon when that is exactly what the author described it as being like. This is the second Three Pines book which I’ve read and each of them has been set in freezing depths of a Canadian winter. I’m wondering if it’s ever summer in Three Pines.

Summer or Winter, I want to live there, more particularly I want to be sitting on the sofa opposite the wood-burning stove which sits in the middle of the bookshop, and going to Gabri and Olivier’s bistro for my lunch.

Anyway, the first sentence in the book tells you who is going to be murdered and by the time the deed is done I was just about cheering, because she was a truly ghastly character, a bullying egomaniac who was as shallow as they come.

But there are so many other great characters and relationships going on in the book. I particularly like Inspector Gamache and his wife, Reine-Marie, they’re very close and loving which is almost unheard of in detectives where divorced misfits seems to be the order of the day. Mind you, having said that I think that Maigret and his wife might have been a successful partnership, but it must be about 40 years since I read anything by Simenon so I’m not at all sure about that. Can anyone else remember?

Vegetarian Haggis

22 January 2015 21:15

It’s coming up to that time of the year again – Burns Night, and the maker of my favourite vegetarian haggis seems to have given up making them, I can only find their normal haggis in the supermarkets. I tried another maker and it was not a good experience, it had red kidney beans in it and they were really hard – a bit of a worry as they didn’t seem to have cooked.

I intended making up my own recipe but in today’s Guardian I spotted a recipe for vegetarian haggis and it’s more or less what I was going to do anyway, although I must admit that I wouldn’t have thought of putting black treacle into it.

Anyway, if you are also looking for a vegetarian haggis recipe, have a look here.

In the accompanying article Felicity Cloake says that the main flavour in haggis is offal, I don’t agree, in any haggis I have had the main flavour has been the pepper/spices. That’s why I decided long ago to stick to the veggie type as the flavour is very similar and you don’t feel squeamish at the thought of what is inside it!

Snow in Fife, Scotland

21 January 2015 23:27

This was the scene just a few days ago near where we live. The snow has all cleared away now but we have had hard frost since then and it’s actually a lot colder than it was with the snow.

a snowfield

One good thing was that there were no golfers around so we could walk across the golf course and not have to worry about flying golf balls. But what was really annoying was that it was virgin snow so we knew that there had been no deer around the place and I lived in hope of seeing some on the way back.

a snowfield

It was just typical that by the time we walked back that way about 20 minutes later – there were several sets of deer tracks. I swear they wait for us to go out of sight before emerging from their hidey holes. I could smell them but I wasn’t feeling energetic enough to track them down to get some photos of them. I’ll just wait until I bump into them!

Can anyone else smell deer? Jack just looks at me like I’m a bit mental when I say that. Ho hum!

Afternoon Tea at Broughty Ferry

21 January 2015 00:17

We were given a gift voucher at Christmas, for afternoon tea at Jessie’s Kitchen in Broughty Ferry, not somewhere we had ever been before, but afternoon tea is just about my favourite meal because I get easily bored by food and I like a lot of variety, a wee bit of lots of different things, and that is what we got this afternoon. It was delicious!

Afternoon Tea 1

Afternoon Tea 2

We couldn’t manage it all though, which must be quite a regular occurrence I’m sure, and our waitress asked us if we would like a box to take the surplus cake home, which we did. That was at 4 o’clock and we were so full up that neither of us had room for our dinner tonight. All we have had since then is tea/coffee – so with any luck we might not have put on any weight!

The setting is a large Victorian villa overlooking the River Tay and there’s a garden centre in the same building. I think we’ll be making a return visit sometime in the future.

Moby Dick by Herman Melville

19 January 2015 23:19

I decided to gird my loins, pluck up all my courage and such and get down to reading Moby Dick early on in the year, I’ve been putting it off for years. I inherited an ancient copy of it but that hasn’t surfaced since our house move so I read it on my Kindle – in about five days! That’s what you can do when the weather keeps you stuck in the house. I read every word of it too, no skim reading for me.

Well just call me a twit because all that I knew about Moby Dick was that it was about a whale, it never occurred to me that that would obviously mean it was about whale hunting, not a thing which appeals to me at all.

It all started off so well with the author explaining exactly how the word whale should be pronounced – huale. It is a difficult thing to put down in print but you know what he means and I’m completely with him on this – no ‘wh’ sound should be pronounced ‘w’. Let’s face it, that makes for all sorts of unecessary confusion such as whether/weather – which/witch – whales/Wales – where/wear – what/watt and such. It’s an English thing to pronounce ‘wh’ and ‘w’ the same and I can clearly remember when I was being taught to read that it was important to make that ‘wh’ sound.

This is a writer that I can relate to I thought and I did find it interesting. Ishmael is keen to join a whaling ship although he knows he won’t get much in the way of pay and he might be away for as long as three years. He finds a bed in a rough looking inn and has to share a bed with Queequeg which is a scary prospect because Queequeg is a tattooed cannibal with sharpened teeth. But the two of them end up getting on very well, mainly because Ishmael recognises that Queequeg is a man that he can learn a lot from and Queequeg is happy that Ishmael has no prejudices against him. In fact the lack of prejudice is the best thing in the book with the make up of the crew of the ship which they both end up joining being like a league of nations.

Unfortunately Melville decided to dredge up every bit of history and writing about whales that he could get his hands on, from the bible, Shakespeare, letters, historical documents, reports from monks, if it mentioned whales he pulled it out from somewhere, what can I say – he needed an editor. He even mentioned the monks at Dunfermline (in that abbey which I blogged about a few days ago) eating whale/porpoise balls, presumably ‘meatballs’ (don’t tell IKEA). Descriptions of different sorts of whales and what we would nowadays call dolphins, their habits and habitats.

It all got quite tedious, in fact if about 60% of the book was filleted out of the middle of it then I think it would be an improvement. It did get a bit more interesting when they actually got down to whale hunting but only from a historical perspective as you can imagine, the thought of harpooning whales is disgusting and being told that their bodies often have multiple harpoons already embedded in them from previous hunts is horrific.

Captain Ahab doesn’t appear all that much. He’s obsessed with Moby Dick because in a previous encounter with the great white whale, Moby Dick relieved him of one of his legs from below the knee. In an act of vengence Ahab uses a whale bone as his lower leg instead of the more usual wooden ‘peg leg’. I think that J.M. Barrie might have based his Captain Hook on Ahab.

Nantucket seems to have been where the best whalers came from and a lot of them had originally been Quakers, but those who took up whaling were Quakers with a vengeance, which I found amusing.

But of course whale hunts still take place, with the Japanese and some Scandinavians insisting on keeping it going as it’s a traditional occupation, and of course lucrative, while the rest of us are out there trying to save beached whales who have got into trouble on our coasts.

I took a few notes of bits which I liked early on when I was optimistic about the book:

There was Queequeg, now certainly entertaining the most absurd notions about Yojo (his god) …. and Heaven have mercy on us all – Presbyterians and Pagans alike – for we are all somehow dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly need mending.

When the landlady thought that Queequeg had killed himself: Betty, go to Snarles the painter, and tell him to paint me a sign, with – “no suicides permitted here, and no smoking in the parlor,” – might as well kill both birds at once.

I did think as I was reading it that Melville must have some Scottish blood in him because he does use the word ‘wee’ quite a few times and he mentions Presbyterianism a lot but it would seem that it was the Dutch form of Presbyterianism.

Anyway, that’s Moby Dick ticked off my bucket list. I read this one as part of my Classics Club challenge. The book was first published in 1851 and it apparently spent quite a long time in the wilderness before someone decided that it was an American classic.

Wolf Hall and Beyond – the Guardian

19 January 2015 00:11

On Wednesday the BBC will be televising Wolf Hall so it has been in the news recently and the Guardian has Wolf Hall and Beyond as the front page of yesterday’s Review section. If you’re interested you can read John Mullan’s article here. I haven’t read any of her books apart from Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies but I really want to read her earlier work now. In fact there are quite a lot of interesting articles in this week’s Review, see if there’s anything you fancy reading about here.

I know that quite alot of people collect the old Ladybird books nowadays, I’m not one of them but I must admit that they are very nostalgic. There’s an article about them here. There has been a hundred years of Ladybird design, you can have a look at the Guardian gallery here.

If science-fiction is your thing then you might like to read author Eric Brown’s reviews of up and coming books here.

Hunting Season by Andrea Camilleri

17 January 2015 00:50

I picked up Hunting Season by Andrea Camilleri from the library thinking that it was another Inspector Montalbano book and I was quite disappointed when I got home and realised that it isn’t. It is set in Sicily but it’s Sicily 1880. A strange young man called Fofo arrives in Vigata and the townsfolk are concerned when they find out that he is the son of a local peasant who had been murdered years before.

Fofo sets up as a pharmacist and becomes quite popular as he’s a useful member of their society, but the place is run along feudal lines really with the local member of the so-called nobility Don Filippo, a philandering marquis at the top of the pile. There are a fair few murders, but along the way there are also a lot of people jumping into bed with folks that they really shouldn’t be there with. It seems that Sicily of 1880 was a free and easy place.

I didn’t enjoy this book nearly as much as the Inspector Montalbano books.

Apparently the author got the idea for writing the book from the old British film Kind Hearts and Coronets, it’s one of my favourite films an old one from 1949 and I think you can watch it free online.