I read the introduction to this book after I finished reading it, I tend not to do so before then as so often they tell you the whole story, where’s the fun in that! Anyway, according to Philip Hensher’s introduction Love in a Cold Climate is the ‘masterpiece’. I can’t say that I agree with him.
It’s a continuation of The Pursuit of Love and Fanny is now married to Alfred, an Oxford don. But she becomes very much embroiled in the affairs of the Montdores who are now back from India. The beautiful Polly is making her mother’s life a misery by showing no interest in any of the young men thrown in her direction at all the debutante balls. It looks as though the 20 year old is deteremined to disappoint her parents and remain an old maid instead of setting her cap at the Prince of Wales, or at least a duke.
The Montdore estate is entailed and will be inherited by Cedric, an unknown cousin who lives in Nova Scotia and he is invited to spend some time at Montdore House.
I think Cedric is supposed to supply the humour in this book but he’s no substitute for the outrageous Uncle Matthew who makes just a few appearances in Love in a Cold Climate.
I hadn’t read this one before and for me it isn’t one which I would like to read again although I’m glad that I’ve read it now, if only so that I know that I have read it. Does that make sense?
I had never given a thought about where the U.S. Ambassador lived in London I think I assumed that he had an apartment within the embassy but watching Gardener’s World a couple of weeks ago I learned that he lives in Winfield House in Regent’s Park.
Monty Don was given a tour of the beautiful gardens but for me it was all too brief. I had to have a look to see what was on the internet and I found these images. Go on, have a look if you like plants and gardens.
It’s a lovely mixture of formal and informal and I can see why on his first visit there President Obama remarked that he thought he had applied for the wrong job! What a perk to live in surroundings like that, on the other hand it must be difficult to leave it all for an office in the middle of London. I wouldn’t.
I’ve been neglecting my 2011 Reading List recently. I was supposed to be reading one book a week from it in an effort to eat into the piles of unread books which have been in the house for years but I’m way off course now. I’ll probably catch up when the winter weather hits us though as I can’t do anything in the garden then. This book is one from the list.
The Pursuit of Love was actually a re-read for me as I first read it when I was about 14 but I wanted to read it again before reading Love in a Cold Climate and The Blessing. I’m in a bit of a Mitford phase at the moment after visiting Chatsworth House.
I’m pleased to be able to say that I enjoyed it this time round just as much as before. I still had quite a lot of laugh out loud moments, especially at the antics of Uncle Matthew, the very eccentric aristocrat who was actually based on Nancy’s father. In fact the whole thing is very autobiographical as the Mitford children were actually chased by their father and his bloodhounds across country fields when he wasn’t able to hunt foxes, much to the horror of any witnesses, Nancy Mitford used the experience in this book. If he hadn’t been a rich lord he would definitely have been banged up in prison but the children didn’t seem to have been damaged by it. What am I saying?! Unity was a Nazi, fell for Hitler and shot herself in the head and most of the others were unusual, to say the least.
Anyway, back to the book. The story is narrated by Fanny who is the only child of ‘the Bolter’ and she has been ‘doorstepped’ by her mother shortly after her birth. Aunt Emily brings up Fanny but she spends a lot of time with her large family of cousins, the Radletts.
Linda is the second eldest girl in the Radlett family and she’s desperate to get married as she’s so bored by her life at home. It was a time when girls were expected to get married before they were 21, after which they were deemed to be ‘on the shelf’. At Linda’s ‘coming out’ ball she meets Tony Kroesig who she finds amusing, but unknown to her he’s slightly drunk and so she doesn’t realise that his real personality is very different from her first impression. When Tony proposes marriage Linda jumps at the chance and nobody can dissuade her from it. Her father (Uncle Matthew) is horrified at the thought of having a ‘Hun’ in the family and his attitude makes Linda all the more determined to marry Tony.
Well, I know it doesn’t sound like a barrel of laughs but honestly there are plenty of comedy moments in it and I’m going straight from The Pursuit of Love to the next one in the trilogy – Love in a Cold Climate.
You might know that I can be a bit of a nit-picker where details in books are concerned. So I wasn’t chuffed when Nancy Mitford mentioned the Dunkirk evacuation of the English army. My father-in-law wouldn’t have been amused by that as he was at Dunkirk in that very Scottish regiment the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. She should of course have said British army.
Jack Vettriano is another ‘local lad’ and I don’t know of anyone who has no opinion of his art, people either seem to love his work or hate it. In fact I know of a couple of women who had been best friends for about 30 years (I’m not either of them) but they nearly came to blows when they were having a ‘chat’ about his art. Apparently The Singing Butler is the most popular print ever. Did I hear you say How common? Well it must say something for an awful lot of people but it doesn’t do anything for me.
The art world has more or less shunned Vettriano and there’s probably a lot of snobbishness involved in that but the Kirkcaldy Art Gallery and Museum always has a few things of his on diplay. I have to say that the prints in the shops are actually a lot better looking than the originals which can have quite blotchy areas of paint.
One of my brothers loves this one though so I did find myself buying it for him a few Christmases ago. It’s called The Billy Boys and I suppose that for people who hanker after the 1950s then they’re just the sort of thing that they want on their walls.
I know that they’re a bit of a nostalgic trip back in time for women who wore those big sticky out polka dot dresses in the 1950s too. The suspender belt things just make me shudder but men of a certain type obviously enjoy them, Jack Nicholson has an original – I always suspected he was a bit ‘dodgy’!
This one is called Bluebird at Bonneville and it’s the only one which I think is quite good and I think that that is because of the fashions portrayed in it. Everybody just looks so elegant and I thought that Vettriano must be improving so I was quite disappointed when I saw the original photo and realised that he had just copied it.
I find his images really soulless, they have a photographic quality which I don’t like in paintings. I feel the same about Hopper’s work too. So what about you, do you love his art work or hate it?
I was about 20 or 25 years behind everybody else where reading Rosamunde Pilcher is concerned as it was only last year when I got around to reading anything by her. If you’ve read her book September you might remember that the story is set in Scotland and the main characters are Lord and Lady Balmerino. At the time I thought that it was a made up name but since Duncan (eldest son) moved to Dundee we’ve been driving past a road sign which points the way to Balmerino Abbey and last Saturday we got around to visiting it. The photo below is the view on the way to the abbey.
It actually looks far more beautiful in real life, there aren’t many parts of Fife which are very scenic but this area in the north of Fife is not bad.
I loved this gateway, it’s all dry stone walling, no mortar involved and this is one of the best I’ve ever seen.
This Spanish chestnut tree is in the grounds of the ruined Balmerino Abbey. It has been tested and apparently it’s between 400 and 435 years old. You can see that some of the branches are being supported by massive metal poles, in the same way that the Birnam oaks are.
On the left of this photo is part of the chapter house of the abbey and the huge cross is where the original altar was. Ermengarde de Beaumont founded the abbey and she is buried in front of the cross.
If you’re in the area it’s definitely worth a visit, Balmerino itself is very small but in a lovely setting by the banks of the Tay. It’s very remote though and you have to get into a car for the necessities of life as there are no shops, it would be about an eight mile round trip to buy a newspaper!
In sixth century Constantinople society consisted of two factions – the Blues and the Greens – and the inhabitants were born into one or the other, very much like Glasgow. Theodora’s father had been killed by his own bear leaving his wife to bring up her small girls on her own. She had been determined to keep her daughters out of the circus but when her faction, the Greens, refused to support them financially she had no option but to marry again and set her daughters to be trained in circus performing, dancing, tumbling and when they were 12 or 13 they would become prostitutes.
It was a hard life, particularly for Theodora whose character was a mixture of obstinacy and determination, she was positively ‘thrawn’! But her personality takes her from being a circus performer to concubine of Hecebolus, Governor of Pentapolis, and when he tires of her she leaves, taking some of his most precious possessions with her.
Knowing that Hecebolus would send his men after her, Theodora attempts to get back to Constantinople with no success but she falls in with a Christian sect and just when she thinks that she is wanted as a Christian, she realises that they want to use her in much the same way that everyone else has – prostitution, if necessary.
This is a well written book, it’s the first one by Stella Duffy which I’ve read so I don’t know how it compares with her other books. She’s very good at evoking the atmosphere of thronging marketplaces and heat. There are quite a lot of swear words in it, necessary to convey the atmosphere of the circus and those involved with it, so you might not want to give it to anyone of a prudish disposition.
As you would expect from a book about a prostitute there is sex aplenty but thankfully there are no graphic descriptions of it because that can make me feel a wee bit squeamish at times.
I didn’t absolutely adore it but it was entertaining and I’ll be trying out more books by Stella Duffy.
As I’m a Virago First Look member I was sent Theodora by Virago for review.
I bought this book at a library booksale as I’ve read another Osborne adaptation of an Agatha Christie play and it was an enjoyable and quick read, as was this one. Black Coffee was first performed in 1930 and was the first play which Agatha Christie wrote.
It’s a Hercule Poirot mystery and Charles Osborne has set the action in 1934. Poirot is semi-retired, only taking on work which really interests him. Captain Hastings is married and has bought a ranch in Argentina but is in London to do some business. Poirot is getting bored with the same old routine every day so when he gets a phonecall from Sir Claud Amory, a government scientist in need of help, he jumps at the chance of a change of scenery and and working with Hastings again.
It’s another country house mystery! Sir Claud is a bit of an old skinflint and although he has plenty of money he keeps a tight grasp of it which doesn’t make him popular with his son and other members of the family.
Sir Amory has been working on atomic research with the result that he has discovered a new explosive – a weapon of mass destruction. The formula is worth a lot of money and Sir Claud believes that someone is trying to steal it. Naturally there is a murder!
This is one of the many plots in which Agatha Christie employed her knowledge of poisons which she gained whilst working in the dispensary of a hospital during World War I. It’s a good, light, read. I think that Charles Osborne manages to capture the feel of Christie’s writing. If you’re into Christie or vintage crime you’ll probably want to give it a go.
This is a marble table in one of the corridors of Chatsworth House, if you click on the photo you can see how beautiful the amethyst geode and other rock specimens underneath it are. I think the amethyst was bought by the present Duke of Devonshire for his wife who presumably has similar taste to me, in rocks anyway.
I love amethysts, I know that they’re only semi-precious and it’s diamonds that are meant to be a girl’s best friend but I love colour so purple and reddish stones are my favourites. Then there are all those lovely agates which like amethysts are native to Scotland, semi-precious stones are just much more interesting.
When I was at primary school we were lucky to have an old lady who was a retired geologist living near the school and she used to come and give us lessons in geology. Then we went on a field trip to Callander in the Trossachs which was about an hour away by bus, it’s supposed to be a very good area for interesting rocks.
We all went along hoping to find our own bit of amethyst, they look very similar to potatoes but when you break the stone open the lovely crystals are inside – I’m still looking!
If you’re interested in Scotland or beautiful scenery have a look at some Trossachs images here.
Jane GS of Reading, Writing, Working, Playing mentioned that she didn’t know The Beach Boys song which mentioned Steinbeck and Charley. It’s from their 1973 Holland album, if you don’t know the album do yourself a favour and listen to it. Here’s another wee taster to be getting on with!
I hadn’t read anything by Steinbeck since I was a teenager so when I saw that the Classics Circuit was doing a Steinbeck tour I thought it was about time that I rectified the matter. But what should I read? I didn’t have any unread Steinbecks in the house but on a visit to an Edinburgh charity bookshop the only book of his they had which I hadn’t read already was Travels with Charley so I took that as a sign. I hadn’t heard of the book but fellow bloggers all seemed to have loved it, and sure enough, I wasn’t disappointed.
Steinbeck mentioned that like many men of his age he had had a bit of a health scare and had been in hospital the year before. Many men in his position opted to live a quiet cossetted life after that but he didn’t want to be a half-man who changed from being the head of the household to being the baby. He took it as a warning that it was later than he had thought and he should do what he had planned to do one day and take a road trip of America visiting places that he hadn’t seen before and revisiting old haunts. So instead of shifting down a gear he decided to step on the gas literally and the result is that he had a three-quarter-ton pick-up truck specially designed to his specifications with all the necessities of life, double bed, stove, fridge, lights worked from butane gas and a chemical toilet. In 1960 it was a thing of great interest to people wherever he travelled. He gave the truck the name of Rocinante after Don Quixote’s horse. He over-loaded poor Rocinante with tons of books, paper, water and all sorts of things which I’m sure he didn’t need. He obviously couldn’t travel light! For companionship he took Charley his large blue poodle, a very intelligent dog which was seen as an exotic in America and was a good social ice-breaker. Charley could also converse, well nearly. Ftt meant that he ‘wanted to salute a tree’ and Ftt Ftt Ftt meant that he was hungry!
As I said, I really loved this book but for me it was too short. I would have liked more details. Things like how far he was actually travelling between various states and maybe a bit more in the way of descriptions of the scenery. It probably didn’t occur to him that such details would be of interest to someone sitting reading it in Scotland, or for that matter someone reading it 50 years after it was written.
In Vermont he felt the need to look for a ‘John Knox’ church to worship in and he wasn’t disappointed. The congregation was subjected to a ‘glorious sermon, a fire-and-brimstone sermon’ I would say a proper Presbyterian you are all miserable sinners sermon. ‘Vermont God cared enough about me to go to a lot of trouble kicking the hell out of me’….. ‘I wasn’t a naughty child but a first-rate sinner, and I was going to catch it’ The sermon revived him in spirit and gave him a ‘lovely sense of evil-doing that lasted clear through till Tuesday.’ A couple of generations earlier J.M. Barrie wrote something very similar in his book The Little Minister which was set in the Highlands in the 1800s – it’s nice to see that Presbyterianism hadn’t suffered any dilution over the years.
He does mention the mobile homes which were popping up everywhere and seemed to intrigue him and in Maine he was invited into one which he was very impressed with. They seemed to be inhabited by people who wanted to dodge paying taxes though and I think that their reputation is not what it once was.
The people that he met along the way seemed to me to be very friendly, even the police/national guards were pleasant and helpful. The people in each state had different characteristics but it was the state and the people of Montana which gave him the most pleasure and in fact he said that if Montana had had a sea coast then he would have settled there but he had to live near the sea. He hadn’t visited Montana before.
Visiting his old home of Salinas in California he realised that people from your past are best left in the past as everyone concerned prefers their own version of their memories and they tend to be different from what was the reality.
Steinbeck says that in his journey each state had its own character, he was dreading going to the South because of the race problems there but he felt that he had to go. So he travelled to Louisiana to witness the ‘cheerleaders’ in action. They were a group of white women who chanted racist abuse at a young girl as she went to school. This was something which I didn’t know about and he doesn’t mention the name of the small black schoolgirl that they were abusing but it must have been Ruby Bridges I think and you can read about it here. I’m not sure if things are very much better down there now, but I hope so.
Although John Steinbeck was a well known face in America he said that he was never once recognised. Some people have suggested that a lot of the book is in fact fiction, we’ll never know but, whatever it’s a very entertaining read. I haven’t read many travel books just R.L Stevenson’s Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes, Boswell and Johnson’s Tour of Scotland and a book called Breaking Away which is about Coleridge’s tour of Scotland accompanied by William Wordsworth and Dorothy. It strikes me that although those journeys all took place in the 1800s, you can still visit the places that they went to and in fact people still do recreate the R.L. Stevenson journey, complete with donkey! I don’t know if it would be possible for anyone to do the same with this book as often the details of where he stopped for the night are quite sketchy and probably the places have been built over now, so probably there are no blue plaques in lay-bys saying: John Steinbeck and Charley slept here. At the end of the book I was so in tune with him that he seemed like a friend rather than a famous author.
Anyway, I hope I’ve given you a wee flavour of what the book is like. I haven’t said much about Charley the blue standard poodle. What degree of dog is that? was the question that Steinbeck was always being asked. Charlie was a great companion dog and like most poodles was very smart. It’s just a shame that people often make them so daft looking with strange hair cuts. We used to have an apricot poodle – yes apricot!
A big thank-you to Rebecca and Karen for putting in all the hard work to bring about the John Steinbeck Tour.
PS My husband says I should have known the Beach Boys song that mentions Steinbeck and Travellin’ with Charley (the California bit of California Saga.)