The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

30 July 2014 23:45

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley has appeared in a few of my favourite blogs and has always been adored by the readers (my pals!) so I was fairly sure that I was in no danger of finding this book to be a dud – and of course it wasn’t. In fact I’m already reading the second in the series and have the third one from the library.

Set in England in 1950, Flavia de Luce is the youngest in a family of three daughters, their mother Harriet died in a climbing accident and Flavia has no memories of her. Their father is a remote, withdrawn character, as were most fathers at that time. The girls are very much left to get on with things on their own which is something that their father might not have done if he had had an inkling of just how nasty elder sisters can be to their much younger siblings. I know because I’m a third daughter myself!

Never fear though, Flavia gets her own back, she’s a great character and with her love of chemistry it’s a brave or stupid person who crosses her. I never particularly wanted a daughter (it’s all that pink girly stuff which put me off that idea) but if I had had one I would have wanted her to be like Flavia.

When Flavia discovers a dying man in the garden she becomes involved in a mystery which had its origins years before she was born. She always seems to be a few steps ahead of the police and with the help of her trusty bike Gladys and an old family retainer called Dogger she solves everything.

There’s quite a lot of chemistry in the book and if I’m reading about something which I don’t know much about myself I’m always wondering how correct the information is. So each time a chemical was mentioned I asked my trusty resident Chemistry Ph.D guy (Jack) and I’m glad to say that it was all correct.

I enjoyed being in the company of Flavia so much that I began to read the second one in the series straight after finishing this one. Hurrah for libraries!

Lower Largo, Fife, Scotland

29 July 2014 23:20

Lower Largo

I’ve been visiting quite a few places along the Fife coast of Scotland, doing a bit of beachcombing, really looking for sculptural bits of driftwood to add some interest to the new garden. It hasn’t been as successful as I had hoped, I suppose because the weather has been so calm, recently, the sea isn’t flinging much back at us. Anyway, above is a photo of a bit of the beach at Lower Largo, it used to be a fishing village, before that industry was decimated, now the boats are just small pleasure craft.

Lower Largo

These flats are right on the edge of the beach. I don’t know about you but that doesn’t appeal to me at all. A lot of people are obsessed with having a sea view, especially if they’ve grown up near the sea. But I don’t know how they can ever sleep on stormy nights, and there are plenty of those in a year. Also the sand gets into the houses, that would drive me nuts.

Lower Largo

The photo above is of the most bustling part of the village, because that’s where THE shop is. It doesn’t look too hot in these photos but it was hot, in fact we both got ice cream cones from the shop – or as we call them in Scotland – pokey hats. As you can see there’s a viaduct there but no trains go over it nowadays. In the good old days before Dr Beeching’s savage cuts to our rail services this would have been a busy line, filled with holiday makers and tons of freshly caught fish must have been packed onto trains, heading for the big fish markets in Glasgow and London.

Lower Largo

Standing on the same spot I turned slightly to my right to take the photo above, it’s of the Robinson Crusoe Hotel, named that because the man who inspired Daniel Defoe to write Robinson Crusoe came from Lower Largo. His name was Alexander Selkirk and you can read about him here.

Behold, Here’s Poison by Georgette Heyer

29 July 2014 00:36

Behold, Here’s Poison was first published in 1936 and it was just the second crime/mystery book which she wrote, she ended up writing a dozen of them. You can read more about Georgette Heyer’s vast output here.

As a vintage crime fan I enjoy these books more than her Regency romances although there are similarities in that all of her books are witty and she had a great knack of writing natural sounding and snappy dialogue.

I think possibly she hadn’t quite got into the swing of them in this early one. I did enjoy it, especially once I had got into it but at the beginning I did find it a wee bit less entertaining because although there were plenty of characters there was only really one who was close to being likeable.

This is a Superintendent Hannasyde mystery and it involves a large and argumentative extended family. When the head of the family is found dead at his large home, The Poplars, it’s assumed that he has died of natural causes, but of course – he didn’t and there’s speculation amongst the family about the will and who was most likely to gain from the death.

They are a ghastly bunch of people but at the same time amusing in their nastiness to each other and as always with Heyer there has to be some romance, it wasn’t as obvious as they usually are – which was a plus for me.

I think I only have a couple of her crime books to collect now, I’ll be sorry when I’ve read them all, I wish she had written as many mysteries as she did romances, but heigh-ho, such is life, and at last I’ve got around to beginning Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce series and I’m really enjoying the first one, but more about that later, luckily there are a fair few more for me to get my hands on too, I can’t wait!

Cladding the Summerhouse

27 July 2014 00:06

summerhouse (gazebo)

A couple of weeks ago we started banging tongue and groove cladding onto the back walls of the summerhouse, we did the same in our old summerhouse too and we just wanted to replicate it as we really liked the effect.

summer house in progress 1

It’s a work in progress as you can see, in fact we’ve come to a standstill on that DIY project because we had torrential rain and it leaked a bit around the windows. So Jack had to get sealant to sort out that problem before we could finish the whole thing.

summer house in progress 2

So this is as far as we’ve got, we still have to do the smaller bits around the windows and doors, but we’ve been waiting in vain for rain since then, we want to make sure there are no more leaks. I know it’s hardly believable, but we haven’t had rain for probably almost two weeks, apart the odd spit and spot.

summer house in progress 3

Obviously we have to put some wooden edging over the rough edges to neaten it all up. Then I plan to paint it with one of those coloured wood washes which allow the grain of the wood to show through. The old summerhouse was painted like that in a sort of soft eau de nil colour which looked really nice and I think I’ll try to get a similar shade for this one. I’m a creature of habit – or boring, take your pick!

Anyway, the rain came this afternoon, torrential rain which was entirely my fault as I had just mentioned to a friend that we hadn’t had any rain for ages and it was great to get the washing dry in no time. Mentioning a lack of rain always seems to be fatal, someone up there was listening and decided to rectify things!

The summerhouse seems to be standing up well to the downpour so it looks like we will be able to finish that project soon. My priorities are completely different from most peoples’ I think as planning the garden has been much more important to me than doing anything in the house.

The Broken Vase by Rex Stout

25 July 2014 23:17

I think I’ve only read three books by Rex Stout before I bought The Broken Vase, and I just assumed that it was going to be a Nero Wolfe book, but it isn’t. Rex Stout books are not thick on the ground in Scotland, or England for that matter but I came across this one in a junk/bric a brac shop just over the border in England. They only had about 20 books so it was a stroke of luck they had this one, an old Crime Club hardback from 1947. My only gripe is that there’s a paucity of likeable characters but there is humour, which is always a plus.

The detective is Tecumseh Fox (is that a native American name? – for update see last paragraph) and Stout wrote only three books with Tec Fox as the detective, presumably he wasn’t as happy with him as a character. The Broken Vase was first published in 1942.

Jan Tusar is a young and successful classical violinist and Tecumseh Fox is one of five people who have contributed to a fund to purchase a Stradivarius for him. Tec is amongst the audience to hear Jan playing the violin for the first time in public, but the concert is a disaster, the violin sounds terrible and the audience is baffled, the evening ends in tragedy.

I enjoyed this vintage mystery, maybe not as much as a Nero /Archie book but still well worth reading.

Jack has just told me Tecumseh was US Civil War General Sherman’s middle name – after the Shawnee chief who fought against the US with the British in 1812 – and he pointed me in this direction. It’s great having your own encyclopaedia at home.

Falkland Palace – again

24 July 2014 23:05

Falkland Palace in Fife

I just felt like getting out of the house last Saturday, but it was too hot and bright (really!) to travel far, so we ended up at Falkland Palace, yet again. The palace was the hunting palace of the Stuarts and it was well used by them, Mary Stuart (Queen of Scots) enjoyed riding and hunting around this area. You’ll be getting fed up with the place, but I never do somehow. Why is there always a car parked where it shouldn’t be?

Falkland Palace and Gardens

I wanted to sit and enjoy the gardens there, they’re looking good at the moment. So we had a cursory walk through the palace itself and admired the royal bedrooms, then went out to the gardens and sat on a bench for a while admiring the view, and watching gardeners pruning trees, that’s always more enjoyable than doing the work yourself!

Falkland Palace Gardens

Anyway, how many times have I been there? I’ve lost count, but I had never noticed the horse head detail in the stonework at the top of the stairs in the previous photo. So I snapped it for posterity, I think it must be hundreds of years old. Its twin is at the other side of the steps.

Falkland Palace

The photo below is of a more formal area, all lavender plants and juniper trees, I think, and the building in the background houses the real/royal tennis court. It’s a more complicated game than the game which we call tennis nowadays.

Falkland Palace Gardens

On the way back to the car I snapped the floral display outside one of the pubs in the village. I’m always envious of this sort of thing because I just can’t manage to get my tubs looking as lush as these ones and I’ve given up on hanging baskets completely. I think I just don’t feed and water them as much as they need.

Falkland, Fife

The photo below shows part of the pub and the adjoining house which has a good display too. These buildings are some of the more modern ones in Falkland. I’m assuming that both buildings are owned by the same person, otherwise I can’t imagine anyone buying a house right next to a pub, but I suppose it takes all sorts and if you’re that way inclined then you don’t have to worry about driving home after you’ve had a drink!

Falkland, Scotland

St Andrews Botanic Garden, Fife, Scotland

22 July 2014 23:11

St Andrews Botanic Garden bot 2

One gorgeous day last week we decided to take ourselves off to the lovely mediaeval university town of St Andrews, a favourite place of mine, you can see images of the town here, but first we stopped off at the St Andrews Botanic Garden. Jack had prepared a picnic lunch (he’s not a bad lad) and these two photos are of the view from our picnic bench. The pond was alive with life but luckily none of it was biting.

St Andrews Botanic Gardens bot 1

The bit of land below has been set aside as a wildflower meadow.

St Andrews Botanic Garden

There’s also a herb garden and they sell a lot of unusual herbs at the Botanics shop, as well as some very fresh (just dug up) produce from the vegetable garden.

St Andrews Botanic Gardens

Below is a lily pond.

St Andrews Botanic Garden

Below is part of a rockery, alpine garden.

St Andrews Botanic Garden,

More rockery/scree garden. I must admit that I’m tempted to create a mini rockery in my new garden. Remember they were all the rage in the 1960s? everything comes back around!

St Andrews Botanic Garden.

I would have to scale it down more than a wee bit, there’s no way I could cope with rocks the size of the ones above.

St Andrews Botanic Garden

Last year I and a lot of other people signed a petition to try to keep these gardens open to the public as they were under threat of closure, due to cutbacks I think. You can read about it here. They’ve got a reprieve for the next five years anyway, but given the huge price of land around the town (due mainly to golf) I have no doubt that at some time in the future someone will try to grab it again for building purposes. If so, I’ll be lying down in front of a bulldozer!

I hope you enjoyed your armchair trip to the St Andrews Botanic Garden.

And the Land Lay Still by James Robertson

21 July 2014 23:59

It was Jack who recommended that I should read And the Land Lay Still by James Robertson, he thought it was great, and I have to agree. It was first published in 2010 and it’s quite a chunkster at 671 pages. It’s written in six parts and it involves quite a lot of characters who at times don’t seem to have anything to do with each other but their stories all link up eventually. (You can read Jack’s much fuller review here.)

I loved it because it’s the history of Scotland since the 1950s although it does dip back into some old soldiers’ World War 2 experiences. It brought back so many memories, particularly the unexplained death of Willie MacRae, a solicitor and SNP activist which I had forgotten about (how could I have?) and the rise of Scottish Nationalism in the early 1970s. In reality I’ve always hankered after an independent Scotland, but never thought it was worth one person’s life or any acts of violence at all. There were a few complete nutters who did try campaigns of violence. I remember standing waiting at the station for the train to come only to be told that it wouldn’t be coming because there was a bomb on the line just outside the station – really! Even crazier it turned out that the bomb had been put there by someone I was at school with and his brother, and ‘we’ all knew that they didn’t have three brain cells between them! Since the successful devolution referendum in 1997 there has thankfully been none of that sort of nonsense, not that it ever amounted to much.

Anyway, I digress, although this book is about ordinary Scottish people, it’s also sprinkled with politicians, pressure groups and spies.

It was only recently that some ex high heid yin admitted that even the CIA was involved in dirty tricks during the first devolution referendum campaign, in 1979. Never mind, we’ll get there eventually.

Some blurb from this very good book:

Bold, discursive and deep, Robertson’s sweeping history of life and politics in twentieth century Scotland should not be ignored. – Ian Rankin, Observer, Books of the Year

Brilliant and thoughtful. Eminently readable, subtle and profound
- Independent on Sunday

Rilla of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery

20 July 2014 00:00

I downloaded Rilla of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery from Manybooks you can get it free here.

The book was first published in 1939 and the Rilla in the title is of course the daughter of Anne of Anne of Green Gables fame. Rilla is the youngest of Anne and Gilbert’s children, she’s just 15 when the story begins and she’s looking forward to her first adult dance.

It’s not long before the outside world bursts in on the inhabitants of Prince Edward Island, in the shape of World War 1 and Rilla has to grow up fast, being catapulted into a life of Red Cross classes and war work and even ends up caring for a new born baby whose mother died in childbirth. Rilla had never even touched a baby before, never wanted to but she just had to get on with it.

Worse than anything though was having to give up her brothers and all the other young men she had grown up with. The locals soon all became experts in the geography and politics of Europe and life revolved around the newspaper reports of battles in previously unheard of places.

What struck me though was how Scottish it all was. One brother is always talking about hearing the piper coming to take him away, the family dog is doing a good impression of Greyfriar’s Bobby, their speech is liberally sprinkled with ‘wee’ and various other Scottish words, and of course it’s just full of Scottish names. There are locals who are Gaelic speakers.
Inevitably this book is sad in parts but if you’ve enjoyed L.M. Montgomery’s books in the past you’ll want to read this one.

The Canadians who were desperate to join up in 1914 and help the ‘old country’ in its time of need had a tough time of it and so many of them never got back. If you visit the Somme today you will find that there is a part of the battlefield which is forever Canada/Newfoundland and is looked after by a great band of young Canadians who show people around that part of the Somme which has been preserved as a memorial and to help future generations understand what it was like. When we were there we were shown around by a young woman called Aloma Jardine – another Scottish surname of course. You can see what it looks like today here.

I think it’s significant that Montgomery didn’t write this book until 1939, I’m assuming that it was a subject which was too painful to write about until then and the prospect of another war brought it all back. I decided to read it this year as part of my own commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Great War.

A Saltire in Perthshire – a portent?

18 July 2014 23:14

We were driving in Perthshire one day last week and I spotted a Saltire in the sky! You might have heard of how Scotland’s flag (the Saltire) came to be a blue background with a white Saint Andrew’s cross on it, if not then you can read about it here.

Anyway, below is a photo of last week’s Saltire. Is it an omen for the independence referendum I wonder? I took the photo through the windscreen as Jack was driving along so it isn’t nearly as clear as it looked on the day.

A Saltire?

Oh all right, it probably is just two jet trails crossing the sky, but you never know, it might be an omen!

a saltire  from bridge

I took the photo above just a few minutes later as we were driving across the Friarton Bridge over the River Tay, just south of Perth. You can still just see the cross in the sky.