Kate Hardy by D.E. Stevenson

Kate Hardy cover

Kate Hardy by D.E. Stevenson was first published in 1947.

The ancient village of Old Quinings is full of gossip, it’s rumoured that Richard Morven the owner of The Priory, an historic estate, has sold the Dower House. Richard’s wife dies some years before and he sees no need to hang on to the property which has been bought by Kate Hardy, an author in search of a quiet place to write. Kate also has a flat in London but since her older widowed sister and her daughter have plonked themselves on her, with no feelings of gratitude Kate decides to leave them to it in the London flat.

D.E. Stevenson’s writing remind me very much of that other Scottish author O.Douglas – minus the religion, with both of them writing about small communities and usually a young woman moving to a new neighbourhood and having to make a new home for herself amongst strangers.

However there’s a bit more to Kate Hardy which deals with the snobbery and jealousy that some returning soldiers had to put up with when they came back from World War 2 – hoping to just pick up their lives where they were prior to joining the armed forces. It’s a bit of social history and an enjoyable read.

I read this one for the Read Scotland 2016 Challenge.

Getxo, Spain

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Getxo, pronounced Getcho, in northern Spain (Basque country) is the port for Bilbao and it’s a lovely place. It’s easy to see that the town was incredibly wealthy in the past, and it’s not at all shabby nowadays.

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There’s an esplanade which is over a mile long and I must admit that it’s a lot more scenic than Kirkcaldy’s mile long esplanade. The rich people in times past built huge mansions, all in different styles on the edge of the esplanade, obviously taking advantage of the sea views, and vying with each other as to who could have the grandest house.

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After our morning and early afternoon in Bilbao we went back to the ship for lunch and then walked into Getxo and had a drink in one of the bars. We dodged the tapas which was all very fishy (I’m not a fan of fish) but more importantly it was a very hot day and the tapas dishes were just lying out, not chilled. I can imagine that if you’re a local and are used to eating it then it would be fine but I reckon it would have just about killed us if we had chanced it.
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The photo above is ofour ship Black Watch and her sister ship Boudicca is moored just behind.

People in Spain seem to live a sort of split shift life. The shops don’t open until 11 am then close at 2 pm. Then it’s lunch and siesta time and everything opens up again at 5 pm until 8 pm. THEN they open again at 11 pm until 2 am. I was particularly amazed to see that even a shop selling candles and fancy soaps as well as things for kiddies was open from 11 pm until 2 am. Presumably people must actually go into the shops at those times otherwise they wouldn’t open up, but I was left wondering if it was errant husbands who had been out on a longer than expected drinking binge who were the customers. Maybe they feel the need to go home with peace offerings for their wives.

So again, we didn’t contribute anything to the town’s economy. except for the amazingly cheap drinks, 3.60 euros – because it was only the bars that were open!
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We in the UK take it for granted that shops open from 9 am until 5.30 pm but I know that Peggy was surprised that our shops closed at 5.30 apparently they open until 8 pm in the US.

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It was another gorgeous hot day, about 27 centigrade, very unusual for the time of the year and the locals said we were very lucky as it rains all the time there! That must account for it looking so green and verdant.

The Whitstable Pearl Mystery and Murder-on-Sea by Julie Wassmer

 The Whitstable Pearl Mystery cover

The Whitstable Pearl Mystery by Julie Wassmer was a completely random choice from the library. I had never heard of the author before, but it turns out she is a ‘Goodreads’ author – whatever that means.

The setting is Whitstable in Kent, the town is famous for its seafood and Pearl has her own seafood resaturant which is very popular but with her son going off to university she’s finding her life to be a bit empty and decides to try her hand at setting up a detective agency too. She had been a policewoman briefly in her youth, until her unplanned pregnancy kyboshed that career.

This is an enjoyable read with some good characters but the actual mystery part of it isn’t too exciting. I can imagine though that if you know the Whitstable area then you will enjoy the local aspect of it, it seems like an authentic seaside setting. I suppose it comes under the heading of comfort read and we all need them from time to time.

This is Julie Wassmer’s first book but she has been a writer for Eastenders and various other TV programmes in the past. Surprisingly her writing is a bit cliched from time to time, such as using the phrase sun-kissed throat, something that I imagine if I were a writer I would want to avoid. But heigh-ho nothing’s perfect and I went right on to read Murder-on-Sea the second book in this series.

The author lives in Whitstable and is apparently well known for her environmental campaigning.


 Murder-on-Sea cover

Murder-on-Sea by Julie Wassmer is the second book in the Whitstable Pearl Mystery series.

It’s the height of the Christmas season and Pearl is run off her feet at her seafood restaurant, but when nasty anonymous Christmas cards start popping up all over town she decides she has to investigate.

DCI Mike McGuire from Canterbury police ends up taking over the case and things escalate with murders following the cards.

I didn’t enjoy this one quite as much as The Whitstable Pearl Mystery. It didn’t have such a good sense of place and I admit that the entrance of a character called Rev Pru was never going to go down well with me. Do ministers/vicars actually call themselves Rev? and if they do there ought to be a law against it. I know, it’s just one of my many strange personal dislikes.

These books are good light reads that you don’t have to concentrate on to any great extent.

The Guggenheim, Bilbao, Spain

After Lorient in Brittany we set sail for Getxo which is the port for Bilbao in Spain, a first visit to that country for me, so for the first time in my life I was in the Bay of Biscay, somewhere notorious for having heavy and rough seas. What a disappointment, it was a flat calm, even the Black Watch’s captain said he had never seen it so smooth.

Anyway, Getxo is a lovely small town but Bilbao is some 15 miles or so away from there and Jack was worried that we might somehow miss the Guggenheim Museum if we took the trip there on our own. So we took one of the tours straight from the ship, scenic Bilbao and the Guggenheim.

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The actual Guggenheim building (above) is lovely, it’s definitely the star of the show as there isn’t really a huge amount of artworks inside it. What there is though is quite eclectic so there should be something to suit just about anyone, from small amazingly intricate drawings by Goya to a large exhibition of paintings by Francis Bacon, someone that I can see had artistic talent, but I definitely wouldn’t want anything by him hanging on my wall.
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There were a lot of paintings by Picasso too, from all of his periods. You aren’t allowed to take any photos of artworks in the Guggenheim, although they don’t mind you taking photos of the actual building. The architect, Frank Gehry was inspired by fish and you can see not only the fish shapes but also the metal internal cladding meant to depict the fish scales.

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Luckily for the locals there are lots of exhibits outside the building that they can enjoy without ever having to go into the museum. I loved the rolling mist that appeared and disappeared from time to time, depending on the atmospherics.

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The spider in the photo above has eggs inside it and it isn’t supposed to be frightening but is a tribute to motherhood as she is protecting them apparently.

After seeing the museum and buying a few things in the shop, which seemed to be a lot cheaper than such places in the UK, we made our way back to the bus and were taken on a tour up to the hills surrounding Bilbao. It really is in a lovely setting and you can look down on the whole city from there.

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The only downside of taking the bus trip was that we really missed out on soaking up the atmosphere of Bilbao which looked very vibrant and has a reputation as a great place for entertainment. It seems to be the Spanish (Basque) equivalent of Glasgow, artistic and fun-loving. It felt quite like parts of Scotland with the surrounding hills here.

Bilbao panorama

They were very happy to hear that we came from Scotland as the Basque country is of course Celtic and has a strong independent culture of its own, completely different from the rest of Spain.

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We intend to go back there again sometime, maybe for a short city break, four days or so. The local people we spoke to were so friendly and they all spoke English. But we were very interested when Maria our tour guide mentioned that the place was well known for very fine rain that soaked you – how like home we thought! We were chuffed to discover that the Basque word for the rain is shirrimirry, very similar to the Scots word smirry for the same type of rain. We’re definitely their cousins and whenever there’s a gathering of Scottish independence folks on TV there’s nearly always someone waving a Basque flag in amongst the Saltires.

It was a very hot day when we were there, around 27 C about 81 F hotter than normal for early October.

You can see more images of the Guggenheim here and Bilbao here.

A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute

A Town Like Alice cover

A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute was first published in 1950 and I don’t remember ever not knowing about it, such is its fame, but I hadn’t ever really been drawn to actually read it until Lisa @ TBR 313 mentioned it was her favourite. Even then, when I flicked through the old 1956 hardback copy that I managed to buy at a second-hand book-shop, I had misgivings when I saw the Japanese names. Possibly that was why I had avoided it, having had a few chaps in my extended family who had been prisoners of the Japanese during the war. Anyway, it turned out to be a page-turner that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Jean Paget had gone out to Malaya to work before the outbreak of war, she had had family links with the country and was able to speak the language. When the Japanese army so unexpectedly swept the country she had ended up being a prisoner along with the wives and children of the men who had worked out there. The men were all taken prisoner and taken off to build the infamous Burma railway.

Meanwhile the women and children weren’t wanted by anyone, they were shoved from pillar to post having to walk hundreds of miles in search of a women’s prison that didn’t exist, with many of them dying of exhaustion.

Jean’s strength of character is a life-saver for them all and when she gets back to Blighty after the war she settles down to a boring and lonely life as a shorthand typist, until she gets word that she has been left a fortune by an elderly uncle. Jean is the only survivor from her family and the lawyer appointed as a trustee of her inheritance befriends her, he helps her achieve her ambition of digging a well for the women of the village where she had lived and worked during the war.

When Jean discovers that an Australian soldier she had assumed had died had actually survived she sets out to find him and so begins a romance that leads to her settling in Australia’s outback and developing bit by bit a community and better way of life for the people of that remote area.

Nevil Shute was obviously very enamoured of the Australian landscape and the people who scraped a living on farms in the searing heat with practically nothing in the way of comforts. Although the way the aboriginals are portrayed is a bit uncomfortable, I’m sure he was writing an accurate picture of their life. I think perhaps things are in some ways even worse for the aboriginals nowadays.

A Town Like Alice is a great read though and I’ll probably give it five stars on Goodreads.

Lorient in Brittany, France

We sailed into Lorient in Brittany on a Monday. Apparently shops in France shut on a Monday. I’ve spent a couple of holidays in France before and I don’t recall that at all, although they did have what seemed to us to be bizarre opening times. In Britain we just assume that shops should open at 9 am and close at 5.30 pm but it isn’t like that in other parts of the world. You would have thought though that any town that has a cruise ship containing nearly 1,000 passengers docking within a very short walking distance from ‘centre ville’ that the business owners might think it was a good idea to open up the shops, just for that Monday, but hmm, they don’t seem to think like that in France. The only shops open were bakeries and pharmacies. I think that France must have the biggest number of pharmacies of any country in the world. The photo below is of a typical street, complete with very tall plane trees. Well, I think that’s what they are.

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Anyway, it was just nice to be able to stretch our legs properly after getting off the ship and Lorient is a lovely town – for window shopping. If I had known the town would be shut we would have arranged to go on one of the arranged trips to nearby Quimper, where that charming pottery originates, oh well, maybe next time we’re in that neighbourhood we’ll go there.

Below is a photo of the Hotel de Ville, I love fountains, I don’t know why we don’t have as many in the UK.

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It has a rather snazzy looking modern theatre.

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Most of Lorient is quite modern, it was badly bombed during the war in 1943-44, but the Hotel Gabriel and tower below are quite historic. The Germans had their U-Boat headquarters in Lorient so it was always going to be a big target for the allies, they apparently dropped leaflets prior to the bombing campaign advising inhabitants to get out. It’s quiet depressing how nothing seems to change where human beings are concerned, we – or should I say – the powers that be just never learn and ordinary people just have to suffer it all.

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Despite being disappointed at fetching up in a more or less deserted town, it was only at this time that I began to really enjoy the cruise. The weather wasn’t great, it was quite chilly and we even got a wee smattering of rain, but Lorient has some beautiful planting and fountains and is obviously quite a wealthy area, going by the huge amount of yachts and boats moored there. The photo below shows just a tiny fraction of them.

ayachts in harbour

There’s quite a lot of art deco inspired modern architecture around. I especially liked the porthole windows in the building below.
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As we were leaving port on the Black Watch there was a nice looking wee town across the river from Lorient. I think it’s called Locmiquélic.


Tomorrow we’ll sail via the Bay of Biscay to Getxo in Spain, the port for Bilbao, where things get much better.

Cruising from Rosyth, Fife

We chose to go on a cruise leaving from Rosyth in Fife because it’s fairly handy for us, in fact we even looked at a house in Rosyth when we were looking for a new home a couple of years ago. Rosyth is by the River Forth and for me it meant that our trip would be exciting from the very start as we would be sailing under the bridges – all three of them, and getting up close to the third one – the Queensferry Crossing, still under construction. We checked in at 4.30 pm on September, 30th – as we were asked to and by 6.00 pm the Black Watch set sail. The photo below was taken from the ship, looking over to Edinburgh.


The photo below is of one of the islands in the Firth of Forth, Inchcolm.


The photo below is of the new bridge called the Queensferry Crossing, still under construction.

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The photo below is of Kirkcaldy where we used to live until a couple of years ago.


If you look closely at the photo below I think you can just about make out all three bridges.

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The week previously had been wild and windy but the weather had taken a turn for the worse as far as I was concerned as the North Sea that we sailed into was a flat calm. What a disappointment, I’ve always loved heavy seas, ever since going on an incredibly rough voyage to Scandinavia as a schoolgirl. Anyway, we sailed along at an average speed of 16 knots and after sailing from the North Sea into the English Channel I was a bit happier as the sea was quite a bit choppier there.

I was still wondering if we had done the right thing in going on a cruise though as I’m not really a people person. I’m fine once I get to know folks but a shipful of around a thousand strangers was a bit daunting to me. For the first few days I did a lot of reading in our cabin, apart from meal times. I must say the food was really delicious, but going out for fancy meals has never been my top way of relaxing, although I did get used very quickly to having everything done for me. The evening meal was five courses but we usually just had three courses, I think we were unusual in that.

Just about the first thing that struck us was that everybody seemed to be so much older than us. I reckon that the average age was about 80. To be fair we deliberately booked up a cruise that was for adults only, mainly because I thought it would be a nightmare if there were a lot of badly behaved kids rampaging around. It never occurred to me that going on a cruise is actually cheaper than paying for a care home – but it is, and I’m sure the care is better on board too! We did find a few people who were younger than us, some folks who were maybe only around 40 or so.

The ship seemed to be full of people who were more or less addicted to cruising, loads of them had booked up for their next cruise before this one came to an end. They claim that the sea air makes your clothes shrink!

When I started to explore the ship a bit more I noticed that there were loads of people reading books, a few using Kindles. John Grisham was very popular but I didn’t see anyone reading the sorts of books that I tend to go for. There were a fair few knitters around too. I had thought about taking some knitting as it’s getting on for my knitting ‘season’ but I really thought that I would definitely be looked on as being a bit eccentric – knitting on a cruise.

So the first few days I was a bit down and that song about Camp Granada kept running through my mind. But then we made friends with the people at the next door table, and we discovered some old friends were on the cruise, old in both ways as we’ve known them for 30 years or so and they are both over 80 and still going strong. So by the time we got to the first port – Lorient in Brittany on Monday I was feeling a lot more optimistic. Tomorrow I’ll show you some photos of that port.

Back Again – all being well!

Well, I thought I was back, and although we were back from our cruise, almost as soon as I had got the holiday washing hung out I succumbed to a ghastly flu type of bug. That test of whether you have a cold or flu – if it’s a cold you will pick up a £20 note lying on the ground but if it’s flu you will ignore it – means it was definitely flu, as I would have ignored £1,000.

Anyway, after two and a half days of barely being able to lift my head – pain, dizziness and gunge – I’m left with a cough and a hoarse voice which is getting better. I’m just very thankful that I didn’t get ill like that whilst away on the cruise.

So, on with the beginning of the cruise blogposts, very soon.

I’m Back!

Yes, I’m/we’re back home now after cruising on Black Watch from Rosyth in Fife via the North Sea, English Channel, Celtic Sea and Bay of Biscay to Brittany and Normandy in France and then on to Spain and Portugal. We were amazingly lucky with the weather, apparently they get a lot of rain in the north of Spain (although I think their idea of a lot of rain might be very different from mine) but to be fair the place is all very green and lush so they must get a fair amount I suppose.

Anyway, we took loads of photos and I hope to get through at least some of them tomorrow and so have a cruise blogpost up soon. We decided against going online on the ship as it cost £13 for 30 minutes and was very slow so with both of us using it it would have been very expensive and no doubt frustrating.

I wasn’t at all sure about going on a cruise but after the first couple of days, when I was eyeing up the lifeboats and deciding that there was no way off the ship, I settled down and threw myself into life on board, visiting the cinema, cabaret shows and comedy shows. Amazingly there were five talks by a chap who had run trips to the First World War battlefields in the past, he was very interesting and the talks were incredibly popular, just about standing room only sometimes.

Meanwhile, you can see a lot of images of Black Watch here.

Possible Blog Hiatus

Way back in July, just after Gordon and Laura’s wedding, we were feeling a bit flat. You know what it’s like when you’ve had something to look forward to for ages and then it’s all over, there’s usually a sense of – what do we do now? – and to cap it all the weather was pretty rotten. So to cheer ourselves up we booked a cruise! Of course as soon as we did that the weather improved hugely – typical.

I’ve never really been keen on the idea of a cruise but it is the only way of having a holiday that doesn’t involve Jack doing a lot of driving, it’s years since I’ve flown anywhere, I’m not crazy about flying nowadays.

I’m not sure if I’ll be able to do much if any blogging while we’re away but I will schedule some posts, although recently the scheduling hasn’t been working.

We’ve never been on a cruise before, well I say that but we have both been on those educational cruises for schoolkids that were massively subsidised way back in the 1960s and 70s. I went to Scandinavia when I was 12 on the SS Uganda and Jack went on two cruises on the Uganda and the Dunera – ah the glory days of the 60s and 70s, when we had full employment (the 1960s anyway) and everything seemed possible, the world has definitely gone backwards since then!

Anyway, I’ve wandered as usual, we’re sailing off to France, Portugal and Spain. We had planned on going to Norway but the cruise dates didn’t fit in well for us so maybe that’ll be our second cruise, if we enjoy this first one. One good thing is that the weather should be warmer than it is here so we’ll be prolonging our summer a bit. I just hope that it isn’t all reminiscent of Hi-de-Hi, but on the high seas! Whatever, it’ll be an experience and we won’t be in danger of ever lying on our death beds wishing we had gone on a cruise!

I’m a cheery besom – amn’t I?!