The Silent Pool by Patricia Wentworth

The Silent Pool cover

The Silent Pool by Patricia Wentworth was first published in 1956 and it’s one of the many books which Peggy brought me from the US.
It’s a Miss Silver mystery and of course she’s never far from her knitting needles and wool. In fact I’ve come to realise that Miss Silver’s knitting fulfills the same function as Mr Harding’s cello in Trollope’s Barchester books, it’s a way of relaxing and de-stressing, an aid to concentrating on a problem.

Miss Silver is visited by a retired actress Adriana Ford, she suspects that someone in her household is trying to murder her. Adriana suffers from ill health and she has several members of her extended family living with her. They all rely on Adriana for a roof over their head, she’s financing all of them and they know that she has left them money in her will. It seems that one or more of them want to get their hands on the money sooner rather than later.

This was an enjoyable mystery and I didn’t guess who the culprit was. There are a fair few ghastly characters in the book, which can sometimes be a problem for me as I have no real wish to spend my time with people I really don’t like. It was saved by a couple of really likeable characters though. I’ll be reading more by Patricia Wentworth in the future.

The Rain Forest by Olivia Manning

The Rain Forest by Olivia Manning was published in 1974. The setting is the fictional island of Al-Bustan in the Indian Ocean. In fact it must be the island of Madagascar as there are lemurs in Al-Bustan and apparently lemurs only live in Madagascar, although Madagascar was a French colony.

Hugh and Kristy Foster are a married couple who have gone to Al-Bustan so that Hugh can take up the offer of a British government job. Hugh has written one novel in the past, then he got very lucrative work as a film script writer. Kristy is a succesfull novelist, something which Hugh is rather jealous of.

They’d been married for 11 years when the film script work dried up, they had lived the high life in London to the hilt and had spent all of their money, with nothing to show for it, hence the need to go to Al-Bustan for work. When Hugh gets there he realises that there is no real job for him, he has nothing to do all day and the other British people look down their noses at them. The one thing which he does do is he gives a travel permit to another British man which allows him to go to the other side of the island to the rain forest, to do some research on the area, it’s a place where escaped slaves used to hide. The red ants there could strip a man to a skeleton overnight.

Al-Bustan is about to get its independence so there is a political struggle going on and the Brits are determined to do all they can to stop the country from reverting to slavery which they think will happen if the Arabic factions gain power.

Olivia Manning often wrote about colonialism and imperialism, she seems to have realised much earlier than her contemporaries how destructive and unpopular the British were when they colonised countries. Her husband was a British Council lecturer so they travelled around various parts of the empire.

Her books are all autobiographical and she used people whom she had met as copy so it’s a fair account of what life was like at the end of the raj I’m sure. Heartbreakingly she had some terrible experiences of her own which she also used in this book, maybe it was cathartic for her.

I enjoyed this book but it isn’t a patch on her Balkan and Levant trilogies which I could hardly put down. I wondered if there was a sequel to The Rain Forest as the book just ended and you don’t discover what happens to Hugh and Kristy, and as I particularly liked Kristy with her love of the animals and the plants on the island it would have been nice for loose ends to be tied up, but it’s left to the reader’s imagination I suppose.

By complete coincidence, the day I finished reading this book there was an article on the news about Madagascar, the lemurs and the people and how the children are being educated to value the wildlife and the trees. Better late than never I suppose but it was the future development which was obviously worrying Manning when she wrote this book, it’s probably just as well that she never knew that there is now only 10% of the rain forest left.

Titty or Tatty? what’s in a name

It’s a good long time since I read Swallows and Amazons and I don’t even remember one of the characters being called Titty, it can’t have struck me as being weird at the time. However her name is being changed to Tatty in a new film version which is being made by the BBC, you can read about it here. The author of the article, Nicholas Tucker has apparently written a lot about children’s literature in the past, but in this article he writes about words which were used by writers in the past, innocently, but which couldn’t be used today, such as ejaculate, meaning to exclaim, which used to be used by lots of authors including Enid Blyton if I’m remembering correctly. The word ‘screw’ in Victorian literature of course means salary, language changes all the time.

He goes on to mention that Angela Thirkell used the words ‘giant cock’ in her book The Brandons, it was of course a fairground attraction in the shape of a cockerel. Tucker seems to think that it’s unthinkable that Thirkell could have put that into her story deliberately. It smacks of those daft people who think that their generation is the one which invented sex!

Of course Thirkell put it in deliberately, and all of her readers would have had a right good snigger at it, her books are full of things like that, that’s what makes them so funny and popular in their day and now. Tucker seems to think that because Thirkell was rather snobbish and was a granddaughter of the artist Edward Burne-Jones, it means that a ‘naughty’ word would never have passed her lips! Whereas of course, her hobnobbing with rather posh people and being one of them herself makes it a dead certainty that she was a ‘bit of a goer’- as they say.

Tucker also doesn’t seem to realise that children’s books are written on two levels, one for the child and one for the adult who may be reading it to them.

I suppose he’ll be saying next that – a marquis’s son is unused to wine!

Every Man for Himself by Beryl Bainbridge

Every Man for Himself by Beryl Bainbridge was first published in 1996. Of course the setting is The Titanic and that did put me off a wee bit but I decided to buy it anyway because I like Bainbridge’s writing. I’m the opposite of those many people who are obsessed with all things Titanic. This book won the Whitbread Novel of the Year award.

The book is split up into four sections, one section for each day of the voyage, and it’s narrated by a 22 year old man named Morgan. He has trained as a draughtsman and knows more about the ship than most of the other seafarers. Obviously since he is telling the tale the reader knows from the beginning that he survived the disaster.

Morgan comes from a wealthy family with his uncle being the owner of the bank J.P. Morgan, but he’s an orphan and is somewhat unsure of his place in society. On board he mixes with all sorts of people from the very wealthy to people who have virtually nothing but the clothes they have on their back.

He’s an ideal narrator as it means that the reader gets to know a variety of unusual characters and the reasons for them being on the voyage. I ended up enjoying this one although not as much as An Awfully Big Adventure, which was the previous book by Bainbridge which I read.

Was the sinking of The Titanic the worst ever sea disaster? No, it doesn’t come close, you can read about some others here.

I can understand why people are so interested in the disaster but at the same time it annoys me as it’s the fact that there were so many wealthy and titled people on board with their treasures which attracts them. It’s all very snobby.

I’ve always been surprised that Harland and Wolff, the shipyard which built the Titanic continued in business. I wonder if something like that happened nowadays if the shipyard would survive. I really doubt it somehow, they would be sued out of existence, after all the American airline Pan-Am didn’t survive the Lockerbie bombing. The White Star Line continued in business until 1934 when it merged with Cunard Line. Not that that has anything to do with the book, just my mind going on a wander as usual.

Anyway back to the book, Every Man for Himself is a good read and I’ll be reading more by Bainbridge in the future.

British Library Crime Classics

I’ve recently been given a whole load of books, first by our friend Eric and then even more by Peggy from the US. I had decided that I wasn’t going to look at any books whenever we went out anywhere, just so that I could concentrate on whittling away at some of my book piles.

But there is no hope for me, just as I had said that to Jack he came up to me in a shop to give me the news that he had found two British Library Crime Classic books, of course it was the lovely 1930s covers which had attracted him. So it’s his fault entirely that I added those ones to the ever growing piles. Both of them by Mavis Doriel Hay, I don’t even recall ever hearing anything about her, but I couldn’t resist them. They are Death on the Cherwell and Murder Underground.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, in another charity shop today he spotted Mystery in White by J.Jefferson Farjeon, now I have heard only good things of this one so I couldn’t pass up the chance to buy it.

As luck would have it we were both feeling a bit under the weather over the last couple of weeks and indeed the actual weather was not helping our moods either, so we both sort of read our way out of it, whilst totally ignoring everything else. Luxury. It’s wonderful to be able to read a book in a day! So I’m fairly ploughing through the book piles.

On another bookish note, we’ve been using our local libraries a lot since moving to a more rural location last year. There are several small libraries in villages a short drive from us and we had been hoping that using those ones and pushing their lending statistics up would mean they would be safer from closure. Honestly we did our best! But there gas been an announcement to the effect that Fife Council intend to close 16 libraries! I honestly never thought that so many would be under threat.

Those small libraries are often a sort of local hub and the only place where some people can get access to a computer. Primary schools won’t be able to take the children to library visits and that means that for a lot of them they just will never see the inside of a library as their parents are either too busy to take them, or just don’t have the inclination to do so.

I feel a campaign coming on!

On a happier note, if you are in the Kirkcaldy area then do yourself a favour and get along to the library and museum where The Great Tapestry of Scotland is on exhibition. We saw it when it was at the Scottish Parliament building in Edinburgh but went again yesterday, really as we were just killing time but I think I enjoyed it even more on the second viewing. The exhibition is on until the 20th of September.

Stirling Bridge, Scotland

Stirling Bridge

Stirling Bridge in Stirling is one of those places which we have driven past hundreds of times and said to each other – next time we’ll stop and have a good look at it. But it was only when we had Peggy of Peggy Ann’s Post visiting us that we actually got around to doing it.

Stirling Bridge

Stirling Bridge is really ancient. There was a famous Battle of Stirling Bridge, fought on 11th September 1297, but that was at an even older bridge which doesn’t exist now. The bridge in the photos is thought to have been built around 1500.

Stirling Bridge

I’m keen on bridges, old and new and this is a particularly lovely one in a beautiful location. The river is the Forth.

Stirling Bridge

You can see more images of the bridge here.

The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny

The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny is the fifth book in her Armand Gamache/Three Pines series, and I think that this one is the best yet. I thought it was a cracker, I don’t know if that is because I had lots of time for reading so I was able to read it in about three sittings, despite the fact that I’m really not a fast reader as I don’t skim read. Or maybe this really is the best so far.

I was just beginning to think that Three Pines is the Quebec equivalent of Midsomer Murders when one of the characters – Clara says: Every Quebec village has a vocation. Some make cheese, some wine, some pots. We produce bodies.

So, Three Pines is beginning to feel like a home from home for Chief Inspector Gamache. It should be a nightmare of a place to live in but the community is so close and the inhabitants so quirky and flawed that it feels like real life, after all, nobody is perfect.

I can’t say too much about the story because I don’t want to spoil it for any possible readers. Suffice to say that the body of a tramp is found in the bistro, he’s a complete stranger to everyone and Gamache has the job of finding out who he is and why he has been murdered and put into the bistro overnight. The lives of all the locals are turned upside down as the police search everywhere for clues. The loyalties of the locals are pushed to the edge.

Ruth Zardo, the elderly poet who is rude and foul-mouthed to everyone, and who is accompanied everywhere by Rosa her pet duck, proves herself to be the opposite of the personality which she works so hard to project.

I’m so glad that I took the time to request these books in order from the library as the lives of the characters unfold bit by bit and there’s always something new to find out about them.

Links from the Guardian Review

Today I’m just going to link to a few interesting articles in the Guardian review.

The first one is an article called Entering Minerva’s temple, by Edith Hall. It’s about the ancient Greeks and their culture but includes lots of information about other ancient cultures. When I was at school the only people who did Greek language were the few oddbods who wanted to become church ministers, and of course in those days they were chaps. I hadn’t realised that Thomas Hardy was writing from his own experience when he described the struggles which Jude had to get an education in Jude the Obscure, surely his most depressing novel. Anyway, I intend to read some Greek plays in the future, it’s ages since I’ve done anything like that, I think the last classic of that type I read was Plato’s Republic.

The Book of the Week is Worrying: A Literary and Cultural History by Francis O’Gorman. The article is a must read for all worriers. A vegetarian diet is recommended for all worriers as it reduces the epic struggle of menu reading! I don’t know about you – but I just want fewer choices all round, it would make life easier anyway.

I’ve often heard that some middle-aged women complain that they have become invisible now that they are older. Maybe they mean professionally invisible within the workplace, I wouldn’t know about that as I’m no longer working, but I believe that age discrimination is as much a problem for men as women. I’ve recently just celebrated a birthday which means I’m now closer to my 60th birthday than to my 50th birthday, but I have had the opposite experience in that as I’ve got older I’ve become more confident and definitely couldn’t care less what anybody thinks of me, so different from the insecurities and worries of my younger age. Anyway, there’s a review of a book called The Invisible Woman by Helen Walmsley-Johnson which some people might find interesting.

Man Made: Why So Few Women Are in Positions of Power by Eva Tutchell and John Edmonds is about how to close the gender gap, something which seems to be more of a problem in some parts of the UK, not lucky enough to be Scotland or Wales.

Last but definitely not least – there’s an article about Audrey Hepburn – Frozen Beauty. There’s an exhibition of rare photographs of her, sadly it’s at the National Portrait Gallery in London. Maybe it’ll get to Edinburgh or Glasgow sometime in the future.

The River Tay

River Tay

One of the first things we did when Peggy got here was to take her to visit the author and farmer James Oswald at his very remote farm on the edge of Fife. The yellow patches which you can see in the photos are fields of oilseed rape, a very lucrative crop for the farmers but seen close up they can be painful on the eyes and on a hot day (if we get any) the smell is rather overpoweringly sweet.

River Tay

These photos are of the view which he gets from the new house which he is having built. It’s a lovely area but so remote that we thought we had somehow taken a wrong turning as he lives miles down a farm track, right on the edge of Fife. As it happens the view over the nearby River Tay is of Perthshire or Perth and Kinross as I think they are calling it nowadays. Our youngest son lives in that part of Perthshire, where the scenery is much more beautiful than anything in Fife, in my opinion.

River Tay and Fife farmland

If you want to see some of the animals in James Oswald’s farm you can look at this post I did earlier.

A Blast from the Past – A Scottish Soldier

Scottish soldier

It’s a while since I did a Blast from the Past and this one isn’t as old as they usually are, the photo above dates from 1965 I think, and it’s of my eldest brother. My mother took the photo, as you can see she didn’t manage to get his feet in it!

John was about 18 years old in this photo and he’s in full Highland dress. In fact he was on his way to being part of the guard for the Queen’s visit to Dumbarton, where she was officially opening the town’s new County Buildings. There is a photo somewhere of the Queen inspecting the guards and it was taken just as she was walking towards my brother, so she is right next to him. It was taken by the local newspaper’s photographer and my mother had it framed and it sat on top of her display cabinet for years, but it has gone AWOL at the moment.

I was only about 6 years old at the time but I can remember the excitement quite clearly. My brother was in the Territorial Army which is the equivalent of the US National Guard I think, and they had all been given this very splendid dress uniform to wear for the occasion. However they were warned not to put anything in any of their pockets or even in the sporran. I suppose those in command didn’t want any unsightly lumps appearing in the pockets.

The upshot of that was that when my brother got back home after the ceremony he was locked out as everybody was either at work or at school. He used his initiative and went around to the back of the house where he managed to push the top sash of the kitchen window down and climbed in that way.

Unfortunately someone in one of the houses which you can see behind him saw him climbing in and phoned the police to report a burglary! Honestly how daft can you get – as if anyone would break into a house in a full Highland kit.

Anyway the cops duly appeared and my brother had a hard time convincing them that he was a legitimate member of the household. When the rest of the family heard about it we thought it was hilarious.

One other thing which sticks in my mind was that according to my brother they were ordered not to wear any underpants under their kilt -and they were inspected before being allowed to go on parade. Did they have to lift their kilts up I wondered!! No, apparently someone had to go along the lines with a gadget like a car wing mirror on a stick and poked it under the kilts, just to check that they had all obeyed orders and were properly dressed kilted Scotsmen. He swears that it is true but I’ve never been too sure about believing it!