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?!

Kenmore in Perthshire, Scotland

On our way back from the Highlands recently we passed through the teeny wee village of Kenmore, I say passed through but when I saw how pretty it was we had to stop. I had no idea that this place even existed and it’s really quite close to where we live, well 60 miles or so from us. Just above the Post Office sign to the right it says Telegraph Office, I’ve never seen that before and I’m glad that it has been left there as it’s part of the building’s history.

Kenmore pano 1

The Kenmore Hotel claims to be the oldest hotel in Scotland. I think we’ll have to go and give it a go sometime.

Kenmore pano 2

Kenmore 7

A one minute walk from the Post Office takes you to the banks of Loch Tay as you can see. Kenmore has a really beautiful setting and is very historic, people have lived in that area for thousands of years and a crannog has been reconstructed on the loch, as they would have been there originally in the Bronze Age.

Kenmore 3

It was beginning to get quite chilly and misty when we were there and we were keen to get home after our Highland jaunt but we’ll be going back there to explore it more thoroughly in the future.

Kenmore pano 3

I’ve wanted to visit a crannog for years so I’ll definitely be going to explore the one below, maybe in the springtime.


Blood and Beauty by Sarah Dunant

Blood and Beauty cover

Blood and Beauty by Sarah Dunant was a random choice by me from the library. I enjoyed watching/listening to Sarah Dunant when she used to be on TV some years ago when she presented the culture programme The Late Show, so I thought I’d give her writing a whirl.

The setting of Blood and Beauty is mainly Rome, the Vatican and when the book begins it’s 1492 and a new Pope has just been elected. Rodrigo Borgia has got the top job of God’s representative on earth, he’s a politician and worked hard to get what he wanted. Although he has lived in Italy for years he’s still seen as a foreigner, a Spaniard looked down on by many but he has bribed his way to the top job, the other cardinals couldn’t resist his gold. It seems not to have been a problem that he had six children and never had any intention of sticking to his vows of celibacy, but that seems to have been normal for those days. He became Pope Alexander VI.

In essence he used his children as pawns and married them all off to the various important and powerful families in the neighbouring countries. He was a similar type to Henry VIII but of course the pope could just decree any marriage to be dissolved if he became unhappy with his choice of in-laws. So he didn’t have the same problems as King Hal. In fact it might be fairer to say that Rodrigo Borgia resembled Henry VIII’s politicians and advisors as they were the ones keenest to form alliances with other countries.

Anyway Pope Alexander’s son Juan was very much his favourite and he made that obvious to everyone which caused a huge amount of jealousy and resentment especially within the family, particularly where his son Cesare was concerned. But as Juan was spoiled rotten his behaviour was always going to make him plenty of enemies. It isn’t going to end well!

I decided to read this book because I thought it would be a painless way of learning about the history of that era, and so it turned out to be. The only thing that I knew about his daughter Lucrezia Borgia was that she had a reputation as a poisoner, but so far she is a much used and abused daughter, sister and devastated widow. This book has a sequel (I think it’s out in 2017) and I’ll definitely be reading it but I must say that if Lucrezia does resort to poison eventually, I won’t really blame her too much. I don’t think this is a brilliant book, it isn’t in the same sphere as Wolf Hall but it is very readable.

Mind you, I was watching something on TV quite recently and the historian mentioned that although at the time someone was thought to have been poisoned (I can’t remember who) it’s now thought more likely that they died of a burst appendix!

What a thought – there must have been loads of people over the years who were accused of poisoning people who had just died of what we now know as being unfortunate health problems such as appendicitis, peritonitis, perforated stomach ulcers, food poisoning and such.

At the end of the book there is quite a long bibliography and I might read one or two of those books too. Well, I would like to but you know what it’s like – too many books!

The Light Years by Elizabeth Jane Howard

The Light Years cover

The Light Years by Elizabeth Jane Howard was first published in 1990 which is a shocking 26 years ago now – how did that happen? I didn’t read it back then, in fact I think I may be the last woman in the western world to read the book, I’m just thrawn that way, often avoid doing things just because everyone else is doing it. It was Joan of Planet Joan who made me think that it was time I got around to The Light Years, the first book in the Cazalet series, you can read what she thought of it here.

The book is in two parts with the first part starting in 1937 and the second part begins in late summer 1938 but it ends with the run up to World War 2 and Chamberlain’s attempts to avoid war. We meet three generations of Cazalets the Brig and Duchy are the parents, getting on now but the Brig is very much in charge of the family wood/lumber business. Their two elder sons work in the business and as the business is obviously thriving they’re quite well off, but the youngest son has hopes of being an artist and is working as a teacher until he finds success in that field.

The characters are all very different with their different personalities well defined but it was the characters of the children that I was really impressed with. Howard must have been one of those people who perhaps has never really completely grown up herself and has remained close to how it feels to be a child in various circumstances. She wrote about all their fears, problems and worries with great insight. I really didn’t want to leave this family saga and would have gone straight on to the next one Marking Time, if only I had had a copy of it. I’ll need to get my hands on one soon!

I didn’t watch the TV series when it was on either and I’m wondering if it is worth watching or is it one of the many dramatisations that end up being disappointing. If you watched it please tell me what you thought of the series.

Guardian links from the Review

I’ve just finished reading The Light Years by Elizabeth Jane Howard. It’s the first book in the Cazalet series (I’ve yet to blog about it) and I’m trying to get my hands on the second one as I really want to get back to that family. Anyway, I noticed an article about Elizabeth Jane Howard in the Guardian Review section this morning, if you’re interested you can read it here. It’s by Artemis Cooper who has just written a book about Howard.

Elizabeth Jane Howard

The photo above is of Elizabeth Jane Howard with her then husband Kingsley Amis. Like many writers she was a bit of a conundrum herself I think. On a frivolous note I wonder if she ever regretted sticking her middle name on her books – I know I would have if I had been her.

There’s an article about the ghost stories that E. Nesbit wrote for adults, it’ll be Halloween before we know it so it might be of interest to anyone reading books for that spooky season. You can read the article here.

I’ve always been interested in children’s books but in recent years I’ve become quite distant from what’s going on, mainly due to having no small people in my life at the moment. I must admit though that I still do buy children’s books if I happen to see any with beautiful illustrations. So I was interested in this Children’s roundup by Imogen Russell Williams.

If Shakespeare is more your cup of tea you might like to read Margaret Atwood’s article on rewriting The Tempest for the 21st century.

Thetford, Norfolk, East Anglia, England

Another town we visited on our way back from our May trip to Holland and Belgium was Thetford in Norfolk. I wanted to go there because it was one of those places that I was always hearing about when we lived in East Anglia, but we never did get around to visiting it at that time. I must admit it seemed a lot smaller than I had imagined it to be. The main streets are pedestrianised as you can see.

Thomas Paine, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States was born in Thetford.

Thetford 4

I’m not kidding you we were in the high street for more than ten minutes before we actually heard an English voice. It was like a league of nations – guess the language the passers-by are speaking! It seemed to me that the smallish community must feel overwhelmed with the amount of people who had settled there from mainland Europe, probably to work in agriculture. What was very surprising to me was that there were what seemed to be Spanish people who were way past retirement age milling around and gossiping, completely at home in the place. I suppose that it makes up for all those Brits who go off to Spain to retire there for the better weather and cheaper cost of living. I can’t imagine why older Spanish people would want to settle in the freezing wastes of East Anglia, maybe they all go home for the winter! I feared that the amount of migrants around would not bode well for a Remain vote in the then up and coming European referendum. How the farmers are going to get their produce up out of the fields and packed for sale is going to be a problem if the foreign workers do have to leave the UK.

Anyway all we can do is cross our fingers and hope that Brexit doesn’t eventually lead to more war memorials in our towns in the future, such as the First World War memorial in the photo below.


I took the photo below very close to the centre of Thetford where we parked the car. It’s a lovely river – called the Little Ouse and you can see more images of it here.


Thetford is a very historic town, the area was the stamping ground of the Iceni tribe of Boudica fame.

James Tait Black Memorial Prize – a personal challenge

I’m sure that like me you will have noticed some books with James Tait Black Memorial Prize in brackets after the title. For a good wee while now I’ve been thinking about trying to work my way through the list of winners of this prize that was set up in 1919. You might be interested in this Edinburgh University link The prizes were founded in 1919 by Mrs Janet Coats Black in memory of her late husband James Tait Black, a partner in the publishing house of A & C Black Ltd.

1919 Hugh Walpole, The Secret City
1920 D. H. Lawrence, The Lost Girl
1921 Walter de la Mare, Memoirs of a Midget
1922 David Garnett, Lady into Fox
1923 Arnold Bennett, Riceyman Steps
1924 E. M. Forster, A Passage to India
1925 Liam O’Flaherty, The Informer
1926 Radclyffe Hall, Adam’s Breed
1927 Francis Brett Young, Portrait of Clare
1928 Siegfried Sassoon, Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man
1929 J. B. Priestley, The Good Companions
1930 E. H. Young, Miss Mole
1931 Kate O’Brien, Without My Cloak
1932 Helen de Guerry Simpson, Boomerang
1933 A. G. Macdonell, England, Their England
1934 Robert Graves, I, Claudius and Claudius the God
1935 L. H. Myers, The Root and the Flower
1936 Winifred Holtby, South Riding
1937 Neil M. Gunn, Highland River
1938 C. S. Forester, A Ship of the Line and Flying Colours
1939 Aldous Huxley, After Many a Summer Dies the Swan
1940 Charles Morgan, The Voyage
1941 Joyce Cary, A House of Children
1942 Arthur Waley, Translation of Monkey by Wu Cheng’en
1943 Mary Lavin, Tales from Bective Bridge
1944 Forrest Reid, Young Tom
1945 L. A. G. Strong, Travellers
1946 Oliver Onions, Poor Man’s Tapestry
1947 L. P. Hartley, Eustace and Hilda
1948 Graham Greene, The Heart of the Matter
1949 Emma Smith, The Far Cry
1950 Robert Henriques, Through the Valley
1951 Chapman Mortimer, Father Goose
1952 Evelyn Waugh, Men at Arms
1953 Margaret Kennedy, Troy Chimneys
1954 C. P. Snow, The New Men and The Masters
1955 Ivy Compton-Burnett, Mother and Son
1956 Rose Macaulay, The Towers of Trebizond
1957 Anthony Powell, At Lady Molly’s
1958 Angus Wilson, The Middle Age of Mrs. Eliot
1959 Morris West, The Devil’s Advocate
1960 Rex Warner, Imperial Caesar
1961 Jennifer Dawson, The Ha-Ha
1962 Ronald Hardy, Act of Destruction
1963 Gerda Charles, A Slanting Light
1964 Frank Tuohy, The Ice Saints
1965 Muriel Spark, The Mandelbaum Gate
1966 Christine Brooke-Rose, Such/Aidan Higgins, Langrishe, Go Down
1967 Margaret Drabble, Jerusalem the Golden
1968 Maggie Ross, The Gasteropod
1969 Elizabeth Bowen, Eva Trout
1970 Lily Powell, The Bird of Paradise
1971 Nadine Gordimer, A Guest of Honour
1972 John Berger, G
1973 Iris Murdoch, The Black Prince
1974 Lawrence Durrell, Monsieur: or, The Prince of Darkness
1975 Brian Moore, The Great Victorian Collection
1976 John Banville, Doctor Copernicus
1977 John le Carré, The Honourable Schoolboy
1978 Maurice Gee, Plumb
1979 William Golding, Darkness Visible
1980 J. M. Coetzee, Waiting for the Barbarians
1981 Salman Rushdie, Midnight’s Children
Paul Theroux, The Mosquito Coast
1982 Bruce Chatwin, On The Black Hill
1983 Jonathan Keates, Allegro Postillions
1984 J. G. Ballard, Empire of the Sun/Angela Carter, Nights at the Circus
1985 Robert Edric, Winter Garden
1986 Jenny Joseph, Persephone
1987 George Mackay Brown, The Golden Bird: Two Orkney Stories
1988 Piers Paul Read, A Season in the West
1989 James Kelman, A Disaffection
1990 William Boyd, Brazzaville Beach
1991 Iain Sinclair, Downriver
1992 Rose Tremain, Sacred Country
1993 Caryl Phillips, Crossing the River
1994 Alan Hollinghurst, The Folding Star
1995 Christopher Priest, The Prestige
1996 Graham Swift, Last Orders/
Alice Thompson, Justine
1997 Andrew Miller, Ingenious Pain
1998 Beryl Bainbridge, Master Georgie
1999 Timothy Mo, Renegade, or Halo2
2000 Zadie Smith, White Teeth
2001 Sid Smith, Something Like a House
2002 Jonathan Franzen, The Corrections
2003 Andrew O’Hagan, Personality
2004 David Peace, GB84
2005 Ian McEwan, Saturday
2006 Cormac McCarthy, The Road
2007 Rosalind Belben, Our Horses in Egypt
2008 Sebastian Barry, The Secret Scripture
2009 A. S. Byatt, The Children’s Book
2010 Tatjana Soli, The Lotus Eaters
2011 Padgett Powell, You and I
2012 Alan Warner, The Deadman’s Pedal
2013 Jim Crace, Harvest
2014 Zia Haider Rahman, In the Light of What We Know
2015 Benjamin Markovits, You Don’t Have to Live Like This

I’ve only read seven of them so I have a long way to go before completing this challenge. The winner is selected by the Professor of English Literature at Edinburgh University, assisted by PhD students. The absence of critics or any so called ‘celebrity’ judges, and the fact that this is the oldest literary prize in Britain make them among the most respected awards in publishing. There is a prize each year for fiction and also biography but I’m going to be concentrating on the fiction, although I am interested in reading some of the biographies – sometime.

The books that I’ve already read are in bold, so as you can see I have a lot to get stuck into, I may just have bitten off more than I can chew, especially as there are some authors there that I’ve tried before and not liked, but I’m going to have a good go at it. It’s a long term reading plan obviously!

The Misunderstanding by Irene Nemirovsky

 The Misunderstanding cover

The Misunderstanding by Irene Nemirovsky was first published in France in 1926 and it was her first novel.

Yves Harteloup is a young man, an only child who had been brought up by his very wealthy parents to expect a very comfortable life, never needing to work or do anything for himself. The Great War put paid to all that, Yves had been a soldier and had survived in one piece, although nothing was ever going to be the same after his experiences. By the end of the war his parents were dead and as most of their investments had been in Germany and Belgium – their money was all gone. Yves finds himself having to work in an office, something he hates.

He looks forward to his summer holiday, deciding to go back to Hendaye a resort where he was very happy on childhood holidays with his parents. There he has a dalliance with Denise, a young mother with a wealthy husband, she has never had to think about money. When they begin their affair it comes as something of a shock to her to realise that Yves isn’t in the same financial situation, he still has the veneer of money about him because of his upbringing.

Back in Paris they continue to see each other, with Denise being clingy and obsessive. She’s a demanding woman, spoiled and self obsessed and Yves can’t ever satisfy her need for adoration.

He’s still socialising with Denise and her husband – in Paris nightclubs and restaurants, always paying his way and so getting deeper and deeper in debt. It’s all going to end in tears.

The Misunderstanding was being written at the same time as The Great Gatsby and so the era and types of people are similar, that generation that went a bit crazy after the First World War, it was a time of extreme poverty for some, and obscene wealth for others.

Irene Nemirovsky was only 23 when this book was published, it’s just as beautifully written as her later books. Tragically her life was cut short when she was murdered by the Nazis in Auschwitz when she was 39.

Boston, Lincolnshire, England

We are due to set off on another trip fairly soonish and I realised that I haven’t blogged about all the places we visited in May, so here are a few photos of the original Boston. We hadn’t been there before, it was bigger than I had expected.

Boston 10

It’s quite a nice place as I recall, although I don’t remember an awful lot about it.

Boston 9

Apart from the fact that we did get some very strange and quite worrying looks from people as we were taking photographs. This is definitely not tourist country. They have a nice big sort of town square though as you can see, and it all looks very clean and tidy. I think I bought some books in a charity shop there – but that’s no surprise!

Boston 6

I do remember this huge church which is just about right in the centre of the place. It’s called St Botolph’s and is one of the biggest churches in England. From a distance I thought it must be a cathedral.

Boston 5

So there you go, I’m sure it’s quite different from that other Boston in MA. If you’re interested you can see more images of Boston here.

Scottish Highland Book Purchases

books 2

The photo above is of the books that I managed to buy on our brief jaunt up to the Highlands with Peggy. Some were bought at the Pitlochry railway station, a local charity has turned an old waiting room into a bookshop, and they have some great books at very reasonable prices. There’s also another second-hand bookshop just off the high street, well worth a look. I think it’s called Priory Books. I bought two there I believe.

Others I bought in Fort William in a second-hand bookshop just off the main street. It’s not that big but I’m always lucky there.

A few of these books jumped right to the top of my queue so I’ve already read three of them, but only managed to blog about one of them so far – Candleshoe.

Garden Open Tomorrow by Beverley Nichols
The Small Dark Man by Maurice Walsh
The River Monster by Compton Mackenzie
The Progress of a Crime by Julian Symons
The Wooden Overcoat by Pamela Branch
King Hereafter by Dorothy Dunnett (about Macbeth)
Quenn’s Play by Dorothy Dunnett
A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute
Candleshoe by Michael Innes
A Child’s Garden of Verses by R.L. Stevenson (illustrated by Michael Foreman)

A decent haul I think but it is a wee bit worrying that within less than two weeks I bought 24 books, apart from anything else I need another bookcase now, or maybe I should perform a book cull, but I’ve done that before and ended up regretting getting rid of some books. I might have a six months cooling off period for them in the garage and see how I feel about them after that.

Have you bought many books recently?