The New Moon with the Old by Dodie Smith

The New Moon with the Old cover

The New Moon with the Old by Dodie Smith was first published in 1963 and of course the book has the usual – by the author of I Capture the Castle printed on the front. That of course is her best known and well loved book, but I’ve read a few of her books now and I think they are just as good if not better than that one.

There were quite a lot of things that could be fairly annoying about this book but for me anyway it overcame those.

It’s the 1960s and the book begins with Jane Minton arriving at Dome House where she has been sent to take up the post of secretary-housekeeper. Her employer is to be Rupert Carrington, and the only downside of the job for her is the fact that she is going to see very little of him as he will be spending most of his time in London. She rather fancies Rupert.

Rupert is a widow with four children ranging in age from 14 to 24. He’s a wealthy businessman and they have all lived a very comfortable life. Dome House may be an old house but it’s obvious that nothing has been stinted, it has central heating and fires and all mod cons. At breakfast everybody has their own electric toaster on the table in front of them.

None of the children is out in the world and so are contributing nothing to the household, so when their father Rupert has to leave the country fast due to him being involved in dubious business dealings, and suddenly the money tap is turned off, they are in dire straits.

All of the Carrington ‘children’ lean towards the arts, one being slightly arty, one musical, the youngest plans to go on the stage and one wants to write books. But suddenly they have to get serious and look for real jobs that will bring in some money. The arty girl’s real ambition is to be the mistress of a king! She thinks that she might be quite good at that. The only one with any real talent seems to be the youngest, she is such an actress already and she is the first to try to find work despite being too young to leave school.

After a brief spell of austerity when their old cook and housekeeper are even out working in the local pub to help keep the house going, they all do more or less fall on their feet.

I really enjoyed this book, as much as, if not even more than I Capture the Castle. I have to say though that there are lots of things about it that should really annoy me. Rupert Carrington is basically a ‘fat cat’ who has been ‘earning’ his money by buying firms and sort of asset stripping. His children are all fairly annoying with that sort of sense of entitlement that I hate, certainly to begin with, and they have charmed lives. In that sense it’s a sort of fairy tale. A good read.

The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths

 The Crossing Places cover

The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths was published in 2010 and the setting is Norfolk.

Dr Ruth Galloway is an archaeologist, she lives in a cottage in Saltmarsh, a very remote area, she lives in one of only three cottages there. People can’t believe she wants to live in such a desolate place but it’s a special place for her, close to where there had been an important archaeological dig where a sacred henge had been found in the mud.

Ruth is asked by DCI Harry Nelson to examine some bones that have been found on the beach. It’s thought they might be the remains of a young girl who had disappeared ten years previously. Thankfully carbon dating proves that the bones are very ancient, but when another young girl disappears Ruth finds herself being dragged into danger.

This is the first book in a series and I’ll definitely be reading the next one. It’s the first book by Elly Griffiths and my only gripe is that she didn’t quite distance herself enough from reality. There is mention of Time Team, inevitably where archaeology is concerned and the author gave two of the archaologists the same names as the main guys in Time Team – Phil and Mike, okay it’s Mick in Time Team, but one has wispy red hair and hat, I’m sure you recognise him if you’re a Brit, we’ve all become armchair archaeologists through that programme. There’s also a druid in flowing robes and I certainly remember him turning up on Time Team and rightly complaining about their lack of respect for the ancestors. Thankfully nobody was wearing a crazy striped jersey. She also obviously got her idea for the book from the news too, something writers often do, I must admit.

If you are in the US or somewhere else that doesn’t have Time Team you might be able to get a glimpse of it below, but it may be blocked.

King’s Lynn, Norfolk

Many moons ago when I was a teenager we lived in East Anglia for a couple of years, Essex actually. One of the places that popped up a lot on the local TV and newspapers was King’s Lynn in Norfolk. It’s 97 miles north of London, we lived much closer to London in Braintree and I never did get to visit King’s Lynn back then. We rectified that on our last trip down to England on our way to Harwich and the ferry to Holland. Below is a photo of King’s Lynn Minster which is over 900 years old and stone built as you can see.

King's Lynn Minster

Somehow King’s Lynn wasn’t at all as I expected it to be. It’s a lovely place but I was surprised by the architecture of the town, it’s very old of course and I had expected it to be all white plaster and half-timbered buildings like most of the old buildings in Essex. But most of the old buildings are made of stone, sometimes small red Tudor bricks, but not nearly as much of that as I had expected.
King's Lynn

But as you can see King’s Lynn is mainly built of stone and some very interesting designs too. I was particularly impressed with The Guild Hall which has a chequered design using two different types of stone.

King's Lynn

You could be forgiven for thinking you were in Holland looking at the photo below, it’s a typical Dutch design. In fact the surrounding countryside is very like Holland, all flat fields with big ditches. There are even old windmills scattered around, the only difference is that they seem to grow daffodils commercially in Norfolk instead of tulips.

King's Lynn

I read The Crossing Place by Elly Griffiths recently and the setting was the King’s Lynn area, so I was really pleased we had gone there because I could imagine it all so much better. It’s an interesting place to visit and of course the locals just call it Lynn.

A View of the Harbour by Elizabeth Taylor

elizabeth taylor
Elizabeth Taylor

 A View of the Harbour cover

A View of the Harbour by Elizabeth Taylor was first published in 1947, but my copy is a Virago Modern Classic reprint. It has an introduction by Sarah Waters and she says:

Elizabeth Taylor is finally being recognised as an important British author: an author of great subtlety, great compassion and great depth.

I don’t really understand that use of the word ‘finally’ because I’ve always been under the impression that Elizabeth Taylor has long been well thought of as a writer, certainly her books have been reprinted by Folio books and they are very fussy about who they reprint.

In a View from the Harbour Taylor evokes the shabby dreariness that is essentially the atmosphere of most English coastal towns. It’s set just after WW2 and Newby is the sort of place where everyone knows what is going on, there’s nothing else to do really except watch the movements of your neighbours.

Robert is the local doctor and his wife Beth is a successful novelist whose characters’ lives seem to be more real to her than what is going on in her own family. There’s a big age gap between their two daughters, Prudence and Stevie, with Prudence having left school having been a big disappointment to her parents. She’s not an academic girl and for that reason her parents see her as being a complete failure as a human being and something to be ashamed of really.

But Prudence is the one who realises that her father is having an affair with the next door neighbour. Tory is a beautiful divorcee and she has been Beth’s best friend since their schooldays. Tory can’t understand why her husband left her for another woman, especially one in a uniform. She is the sort of self-obsessed bitch of a woman that a husband could get very fed up with though. Finding herself with no man she has no qualms about filching her best friend’s husband Robert. Tory is all make-up, clothes and corsets whereas Beth is all kids, specs and typewriter.

Robert in turn feels sorry for himself because his wife isn’t a wonderful home-maker and spends her time writing books. He isn’t impressed with the fact that she’s a successful novelist at all and just wants her to give it up and devote her life to looking after him and their daughters.

Prudence is aghast by her father’s behaviour but he hardly notices her existence and has no idea that she is smart enough to know what is going on. Thankfully Beth remains unaware of their treachery.

Meanwhile, Bertram is a newly retired naval officer who has pitched up in Newby where he is trying his hand as an artist and seeking to insert himself into the society of the locals. He butters up one lonely war widow, giving her hope for the future, before moving on to Tory. He’s an absolute creep but Tory, dumbfounded by her husband’s defection and needing admiration from men in general becomes glad of his company.

It is a triumph of writing that this book is such a good read because there is a distinct lack of likeable characters, usually a real necessity for me. The younger daughter Stevie is a manipulative wee minx and I would have sorted her out in no time flat!

EU Referendum Outcome

I went to bed last night not long after the first vote was announced, Gibraltar. Something like 853 people there managed to vote for leaving the European Union. You might think that that is a very small number compared with those who voted for staying in Europe but given their situation it seemed like a bad omen that there were 800 odd people mad enough to vote that way.

So I knew then that I would wake up to an OUT win. I’m absolutely shattered and will never forgive David Cameron for being such a weak minded idiot in bowing to pressure from the loony right wing of the Conservative party, those Tories stab us every time they get power, not that Tony Blair was any better.

Scotland of course voted to stay in the European Union but as usual we will just be dragged along in England’s wake. And that’s where we differ so much from people in England. We in Scotland are well used to being ruled from afar by Westminster despite how we vote, so it was no big problem for us to have the European Parliament throwing in its rules every now and again.

As for the fishermen who are so upset by the EU fishing regulations – where were they when the miners/shipbuilders/steelmakers and just about every other industry was put out of business by UK governments?

Jack’s blogpost for today is The Price of Sovereignty.

Foodie Friday – Lime and Coconut Drizzle Cake

Lime and Coconut Drizzle cake 1

125g soft margarine or butter – plus extra for greasing
250g sugar
zest of 3 limes
200g self raising flour
3 eggs
50g desiccated coconut
150 ml coconut milk

for the topping

the juice of three limes
100 g sugar

Preheat the oven to 180 C/350 F fan 160 C/320 F gas 4
Lightly grease a 2 lb loaf tin and line with greaseproof paper.

1. Put the margarine, sugar and lime zest into a bowl and beat together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs a little at a time.

2. In a separate bowl mix together the flour and desiccated coconut, add half of it to the egg mixture and fold it in thoroughly. Then fold in the other half until it’s all evenly combined. Then add the coconut milk and mix well.

3. Place the cake mix into the loaf tin and bake for around 50-55 minutes.

When the cake is out of the oven make the lime glaze.

Heat the juice of the three limes and add the sugar, heat until it has dissolved. When the cake has cooled for few minutes poke lots of holes in the top with a skewer, right to the bottom of the cake and pour the lime glaze on top. Allow the cake to cool in the tin.

The desiccated coconut blends completely into the sponge so doesn’t get stuck in your teeth the way it can do in some coconut recipes.

If you are keen on putting booze into your cakes then you could add something like Malibu coconut rum into the drizzle, but it’s a very tasty cake without that.

You will notice that my cake has ‘cracked’ on the surface, I think that that means I overdid the mixing of the sugar and margarine at the beginning. However, cracking is actually quite helpful if it’s a drizzle cake as it means the glaze soaks into the cake more easily.

Touch Not the Cat by Mary Stewart

Touch not the Cat cover

Touch Not the Cat by Mary Stewart was published in 1976 and it must have been around about then that I first read it. I couldn’t remember an awful lot about the book (it was a long time ago after all) but I did remember that the family crest had something to do with the storyline. Judith @ Reader in the Wilderness and I decided to read this one at the same time and she plans to get her post up about it soon.

This is a light read, you might call it a comfort read, perfect holiday or summertime reading. The setting is mainly Herefordshire in England in the 1970s although the book does begin in Madeira where Bryony Ashley is working at a hotel that is owned by her father’s friend, it’s just a holiday job for her but tragedy strikes when Bryony’s father is knocked down and killed by a hit and run car in Germany. Her father wasn’t killed outright and his last words have been written down for Bryony, as the doctors know that she won’t get to his bedside before he dies. There is a tradition of a sort of telepathy within the Ashley family and Bryony has it as has one of her male relatives, but she doesn’t know which one it is that communicates with her through thought.

Bryony is now an orphan and even worse than that her family home Ashley Court is entailed meaning that it has to be passed on down the male line in the family. Ashley Court is practically a ruin, an ancient moated house which has suffered from a lack of maintenance for years. It’ll be a millstone around the neck of the eldest Ashley cousin Emory, even more than Bryony realises because she discovers that that branch of the family is equally skint when she and her father had believed them to be very well off.

The police have never been able to track down whoever killed Bryony’s father and she begins to think that it wasn’t a simple accident. Did her cousins have something to do with it? Which of her cousins is it that she has a mental link with, being able to communicate through telepathy.

Bryony is suspicious of her cousins, would they have killed her father to get their hands on Ashley Court and the land around it?

With romance thrown in and some lovely descriptions of the surroundings, something always expected in a Mary Stewart book, this was an enjoyable read. Mind you I always compare any of her books with her Merlin/Arthurian trilogy, that ended up being a series of five books. Those books are still my favourites.

I read this one for the Read Scotland 2016 Challenge, I’ve now read thirteen Scottish books so far this year.

The Ladies of Lyndon by Margaret Kennedy

 The Ladies of Lyndon cover

I never did get around to signing up for Margaret Kennedy Day but I did read The Ladies of Lyndon a couple of weeks ago – so, here goes.

The Ladies of Lyndon is Margaret Kennedy’s first novel and it was first published in 1923 but my book is a Vintage Books reprint.

I enjoyed Margaret Kennedy’s writing, in some ways she is a bit of an updated Jane Austen, the surroundings are similar, a large country house and several ladies, mothers and what seem to be unlikely marriages.

Mrs Varden Cocks has one child, a very well brought up daughter called Agatha and as Mrs Cocks believes in early marriages for young women that is exactly what Agatha does. Mrs Cocks is obviously the type who wants to get her daughter ‘safely off her hands’ as quickly as possible. Agatha had previously had a bit of a thing with her cousin Gerald, but it’s the handsome and well off John Clewer that she marries, so becoming the mistress of Lyndon, the large country house.

John has a younger brother called James and he’s very much the black sheep of the family. In fact some of them would like to have him committed to an asylum. James is just different from the rest of them and he is really only interested in painting, something the members of his family just don’t understand.

As you would expect James is unconventional and his choice of wife is very much frowned on too, she’s a housemaid and very much wants to stay exactly as she is, she has no intentions of being something she isn’t, not even when she subsequently ends up being Lady Clewer.

James is far and away the most interesting character in the book but he is really only on the periphery which is a real shame. As I said, I enjoyed this but this is the first book by Margaret Kennedy that I’ve read and I’m sure her writing must have developed and improved as her writing career advanced. I’ll be reading more of her later books anyway.

Dutch Woodland

butterflies

One northern European woodland probably looks much the same as any other although I suppose the woodland in the Netherlands is generally a lot flatter, just as the whole country is.

If you look closely in these photos you might be able to see a bevy of butterflies, small yellow ones that I’ve never seen in Scotland, possibly called Brimstones. They danced around the woods in what must have been some sort of mating jig before fluttering up out of sight.

butterflies

What you definitely don’t get in Scottish woodland is a monument to Resistance Fighters. The one below is in remembrance of the people who were caught in the woods by the Nazis and executed there. It’s a terrible thought in such a peaceful place.

Resistance Monument

We were taking Hanneke’s dog Fleur for a walk here, it’s a regular excursion for her but there are parts of this woodland that she refuses to go into. The atmosphere is obviously too horrible for her even after such a long time. It’s weird the way animals have that instinct.

The photo below is of Fleur on the left and Ziggy on the right. Jack took the photo as I had asked him to take one of them both together but I hadn’t realised that he had cornered them in the utility room. I had to laugh as they are both looking so guilty, all they need is a number hanging around their necks, convict 99 style. I suspect that they aren’t really allowed in the utility room, they look ‘caught in the act’ anyway.

Dogs

I believe Ziggy (my niece Kirsty’s dog) is an American pit bull terrier and is actually a banned breed in Britain as there has been so much trouble with them being very agressive. Ziggy is so placid though and didn’t even retaliate when badly trained small dogs have bitten him in the past. You certainly know when he puts his front paws on your knees though – what a weight he is. You have to be very strict with dogs like that and I’m far too soft, Ziggy would be top dog in no time if he was mine and that’s dangerous.

Fleur is a Border collie/spaniel cross, with the worst traits of both breeds – she’s crazy and nervous but very loveable when she gets to know you. Fleur and Ziggy have more or less been brought up together so they’re great pals. They’re gorgeous but they don’t make me want to get a dog, I’m happy just to walk them and play with them then hand them back to their owners, just as some people do with children. Neither of the dogs are the type to dig up the garden which is a plus, that would drive me round the bend.

Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O’Farrell

 Instructions for a Heatwave cover

Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O’Farrell was published in 2013 but the setting is that hot summer of 1976, mainly Highbury in London although the action does switch to Ireland near the end of the book. If you aren’t old enough to remember 1976 you might not know that there was a drought in the whole of the UK, the heat was incredible and the lack of rain meant that there were rules about how much water could be used, hosepipes were of course banned and gardeners emptied their bathwater onto their precious plants to try to keep them alive. Government posters encouraged couples to share baths and showers, that seemed very risque at the time.

Gretta Riordan’s husband Robert has gone missing, it seems he has just walked out and Gretta needs the help of her adult children to track him down. Monica, Michael Francis and Aoife aren’t exactly close, in fact the two sisters haven’t spoken to each other for three years and they all have their own problems but drop everything and make their way to London to find out what has happened to Robert.

Gretta is one of those very annoying women who conduct a constant running commentary on everything, has a conversation with her shoes as she tries to get them on. Basically if it comes into her head it finds its way out through her mouth. Her children have been a disappointment to her, despite her giving them a traditional Catholic upbringing they’ve all lapsed, got divorced or married non-Catholics. Her children eventually discover though that nothing is as it seems in Gretta’s own life.

This is just the second book by Maggie O’Farrell that I’ve read but I do like her writing style. However as a nit picker I was really annoyed that she has one of her characters going into a phone box a couple of times and phoning New York, from London once, and then again from Ireland. O’Farrell was born in 1972 so she may not realise that that sort of thing was just an impossibility back then.

When I lived close to London in 1978-80 I had to use a phone box to phone ‘home’ to Scotland and of course they only had slots for 2p or 10p. By the time you got your 10p in and it dropped into the money box you only had a matter of seconds before having to put the next 10p in. If you wanted to phone abroad in those days, even if you had a phone in your home you often couldn’t pick up the phone and dial, you had to book the call through an operator, and make sure you were at the phone at the correct time otherwise your line was used for the next person in the queue. If you didn’t have a phone you had to go to the Post Office HQ and phone from there. It was all very complicated compared with nowadays.

So I had to suspend my disbelief when one character phoned the US and I found that very annoying, I do like things in fiction to be possible, it’s just bad research really.

Mind you people can’t believe whenever I tell them that when I got married in 1976 there was a two year waiting list to get a phone line into your house and even then it was a ‘party’ line, which meant it was shared with other people in the same town, and if you lifted the receiver and they were already on their phone you could hear their conversation and had to wait for them to be finished. It was very frustrating.

Anyway, I’ve gone way off the subject. Instructions for a Heatwave is an enjoyable read, apart from that glaring impossibility in the storyline and I’ll definitely read more of Maggie O’Farrell’s books in the future.