I’ve posted quite a few photos of Dysart before, but never one of the front of the harbourmaster’s house. I’ve been meaning to get along the coast to Dysart since I read Anna Buchan’s (O.Douglas) autobiography – Unforgettable, Unforgotten. Actually it isn’t so much an autobiography as a history of the Buchan family and their childhood. I had been wondering which Fife harbourmaster’s house she had used as a model for the house in her book The Proper Place. The description sounded like Dysart to me and sure enough she mentioned that it was indeed the house at Dysart she had been writing about. It has the delicious address of Hot Pot Wynd and sits right at the bottom of a steep hill, just as she described it. It was built in the 18th century. It looks like two houses to me though, I’m not sure if the left hand side is still a private home or is part of the coastal centre and bistro.
Despite the fact that the smell of coffee emanating from it this afternoon was very enticing we didn’t succumb to it because there were hordes of people going in, I had a difficult time getting photos sans folks. I remarked to Jack that it must resemble the Tardis inside because nobody came out. We decided to leave coffee for an afternoon during the week when I imagine it’ll be less heaving with humanity.
This is a back view of the house, I think that from the top of it you should get a reasonable view over to Edinburgh. Hopefully I’ll find out for sure soon.
I can hardly believe that it’s that time of the year again – Burns Night that is. I’ll spare you the sight of my dinner this year, we’ll be having the less traditional vegetarian haggis, neeps (turnip) and tatties tonight. Not because we’re vegetarian but because it’s tastier than the offal/awful! version.
I thought it would be nicer to let you see some very old Scottish pottery, the sort which would have been recognised by Robert Burns when he was around and imbibing a fair quantity of whisky, which he seems to have been quite fond of.
As you can see, it’s fairly chunky stuff, the large bowls are called toddy bowls and they measure about 10 inches across the top of them so they can hold a lot of toddy in them. Toddy is of course a mixture of whisky, sugar and hot water, for me it’s the only possible way of enjoying whisky, but I haven’t had it since I was a child when my dad used to make it for me if I had a bad cold or toothache.
I took this photo to try to show you that they are also decorated inside. The jugs are actually two different designs but they’re quite similar as you can see. One design is for wine and it has vine leaves on it, whilst the beer jug is decorated with hop leaves and flowers. The pottery is at least 150 years old but this sort of pottery was made for a long time, it could be a lot older, and the bowls would originally have been sold in pairs, people used to have one at each end of a long table or sideboard. The small two handled pewter drinking vessel is a quaich, the ‘ch’ pronounced the same as in the word ‘loch’. It’s a reproduction one.
The top left hand toddy bowl has very large pine cones in it which make the bowl seem really small. My favourite bowl is the bottom left hand one, I love the design but it has been in the family since it was new which makes it more precious to me.
Have a listen if you want to hear David Rintoul reciting the Burns poem: -
Well, are you any the wiser? Burns didn’t write many short poems, I know that because I looked for one when I had to choose one to memorise for reciting at a Burns competition when I was at primary school. The town’s Burns Society held a competition every year and all schoolchildren had to take part in it. I ended up reciting this one.
“John Anderson my jo, John”
By Robert Burns
John Anderson my jo, John,
When we were first acquent,
Your locks were like the raven,
Your bonie brow was brent;
But now your brow is beld, John,
Your locks are like the snaw,
but blessings on your frosty pow,
John Anderson, my jo!
John Anderson my jo, John,
We clamb the hill thegither,
And monie a cantie day, John,
We’ve had wi’ ane anither;
Now we maun totter down, John,
And hand in hand we’ll go,
And sleep thegither at the foot,
John Anderson, my jo!
I didn’t win. Jack did win though, but he was in a different year from me and he recited To A Mouse. What did he win ? I hear you ask. A volume of the complete works of Robert Burns of course – he still has it.
This book was first published in 1945 and as Anna Buchan says, it’s a chronicle of the Buchan family. Anna is of course better known by her pen name of O. Douglas and as you can imagine a lot of this book is about the life of the most famous member of the family – her brother John Buchan of The Thirty-Nine Steps and Greenmantle fame.
The Buchan’s hailed originally from the Peebles/Broughton area of the Scottish Border country and it’s obvious that it was an area which the whole family loved although they had to live in Fife (Kirkcaldy) and in Glasgow for large chunks of their lives. It looks to me as if it wasn’t possible for their father the Rev. John Buchan to get a church in the Borders and so he had to go elsewhere, or perhaps he felt a calling to work amongst the poor where he could be of most use to people in need.
John Buchan himself said that he made up his adventure stories entirely from his imagination but his sister was happier to write about things which she had experienced, she just put down her memories on paper, quite true, if you have read some of her books it’s obvious that she put so much of her family life into them. The Buchan children were wild ones and I can well imagine that the church congregation would have been forever complaining about them, although maybe not to their parents!
This is a must read if you are into reading O. Douglas’s fiction but it was a bit disappointing because I had hoped to learn about her private life but she doesn’t give any personal information away. No stories of lost loves or anything, she writes about the personal lives of the other family members but when it comes to herself she only writes about her own writing career and about lecturing to women’s groups during the war.
I feel that she must have had a lost love, like the one which she writes about in The Proper Place. She was a woman who had a penchant for cheeky wee boys and she had to make do with the ones which her siblings added to the family, instead of providing some of her own.
Anna took up writing because her mother was one of those women who only wanted to read about ‘nice’ things in books, she complained that her son John’s books were full of swear words so she never got very far into them before giving up. So Anna’s books were written for her mother really. John read the manuscripts for his sister and sent them back to her with suggestions for changes – it’s obvious that he didn’t think she should have the preachy Christian/Biblical bits in them but Anna stuck to her guns, probably for her mother’s sake.
Like almost all of her books, this one has its sad moments too, it isn’t all pink sugar. World War 2 hadn’t come to an end by the time she finished this book but the Buchans had already had a sad loss by then, with the unexpected death of her brother John, following an accident. I think that must have spurred her on to write this family history, as for her the most important of them was gone.
If you know Peebles at all then you’ll probably be able to pin-point the various houses which family members lived in within the town. But maybe they already have blue plaques on them.
I’m on a bit of an O. Douglas binge at the moment. The title The Proper Place is a reference to a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale in which a whistle is blown and everyone is magically whisked to their proper place in society, I must admit I don’t know that one at all.
Anyway, when I read the blurb on the dust cover fly-leaf of this old book I just had to read it because it’s about a family of women who have to move from their beloved home in the Scottish borders as they can’t afford to live in their large house now that all the men in the family are dead. Their friends want them to take a smaller house in the same neighbourhood but they think that a clean break would be best and decide to look for a house in an entirely different part of Scotland.
Mrs Rutherford, her daughter Nicole and niece Barbara end up living in an old stone harbour house with crowsfeet gables in Fife of all places, which is on the east coast of course and where I happen to live. The localities were all familiar to me although most of the place names had been changed they were still recognisable, so I spent my time saying to myself the red rocks must be the ones at Wemyss – and such like.
Nicole, the daughter is the type of person who speaks to everyone and makes friends wherever she goes (Evee!). Her cousin Barbara is more stand-offish and a bit snobbish, but Nicole is determined to settle into village life and sets about visiting the locals who are an odd set of people, including a retired couple who had lived most of their lives in India.
Towards the end the action does move back to the Peebles area, so beloved by all the Buchan/Douglas family. There’s romance of course, eventually and as O. Douglas herself said, her books are as sweet as home-made toffee, but they’re always mixed with sadness somehow, which makes these comfort books of hers more true to life really, especially when you remember that they would have been read by women who had lost sons and husbands in wars and children to what are now trivial childhood illnesses. The book was first published in 1926.
I’ve read quite a few of her books now and I’m sure that there is a wee bit of repetition now and again in them, it’s something which J.M. Barrie did too in his books, were they being thrifty Scots?!
If you know Fife at all, and the borders for that matter then it does add more to the experience I think, it is nice to recognise places and even buildings mentioned in books. I was trying to think which harbour house she had used as the house in the book and I had decided that only Dysart fitted the description, sure enough she does mention in her book Unforgettable,Unforgotten (I’ll write about that in the near future) that she used the Dysart Harbour Master’s house for the setting. The photo below is one which I took of the harbour with the back of the house in the background, it is now a musueum and bistro.
The Classics Club October question is: Why are you reading the classics? Before you start, I’m warning you this is a ramble and a half!
There are lots of reasons why I read classic books. When I was about 9 or 10 I started reading classics which had been abridged for children and Charles and Mary Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare. I really enjoyed reading books which were set in a more genteel time I think and it was about that time I tried my hand at embroidery, I think I fancied myself as a Victorian heroine!
I soon moved on to reading the unabridged books like Jane Eyre and then everything by Jane Austen, and George Elliot’s Mill on the Floss was a favourite of mine when I was about 12. I think at the back of my mind I had a feeling that if a book was still being read and reprinted after so many years then it must mean that it’s a book worth reading. I do hate giving up on books which have been a disappointment to me, there’s less chance of that with a classic I think.
I still have the very first classic book which I bought with my own money, and I can clearly remember buying it. My mum gave all of my books away when she was having a mad clear out, apparently I had grown out of them, I of course knew nothing about it until the deed was done. But my first purchase survived the pogrom because it was for adults. It is a small cream coloured book, published by Thomas Nelson and it’s Catriona by Robert Louis Stevenson. Apart from being a dinky wee book it was the title which made me buy it, vanity I suppose, or just curiosity because Catriona is the Gaelic spelling of my own name of course, and I wanted to know what this other Catriona/Katrina got up to.
I had to wait though as I hadn’t looked inside the book where it says – sequel to Kidnapped. As I hadn’t read Kidnapped I had to find that one first. Both books are well worth reading and have a Scottish setting, which is something else which I enjoy. I know – how parochial of me!
I’ll give you a flavour of that first classics book purchase. I bought it in John Menzies (pronounced Ming-is – it’s that yogh letter of the alphabet again) Stationers and Bookshop in Helensburgh, on the west coat of Scotland, north of Glasgow. Helensburgh is a town just about 7 miles north of where I was brought up and it was a favourite place to have a nice day out, a bit of a change of scene. It was a popular destination for day trippers, holidaymakers and at that time had the most millionaires living in it of any town in Scotland. It attracted successful football players and theatrical entertainers, showbiz types I suppose you could say. The actress Deborah Kerr was born there and John Logie Baird lived there and apparently started his experiments on the development of television there in the 1920s.
But all that was of not very much interest to my mum, what she liked Helensburgh for was the American Navy! At the time they were based at the Holy Loch and possibly Faslane, on the Clyde. Yes, all the nice girls love a sailor – so they say, and my mum certainly did. She was always terribly disappointed if for some reason there were no US sailors in the town when we were there. I was always quite relieved because she would urge me in a stage whisper, which really more resembled a fog horn. Touch their stars for luck! She always got the attention of the sailors – I always just about died of embarrassment and of course refused to touch up any sailors. I’m sure my mum made it up – that it’s supposed to be lucky to touch the star on the bottom corner of a US sailor’s collar.
Well I warned you it was going to be a ramble! But when I look at my copy of Catriona it reminds me of sailors and my somewhat eccentric mum. As it happens my dad had been a sailor when they got married, but then, it was during World War II and there were a lot of them about back then.
If you look carefully you should be able to see my cream coloured copy of Catriona on the shelf below.
The long driveway which leads to Glamis Castle is flanked by fields of cattle, if you have to be a cow this is one of the best places to be one I think. Good grass, lovely trees to hide from the sun, when we get it, not a bad life – for a while anyway.
This fountain is just beyond the field of cows and if you’re in the castle you would be looking out on to it from the front windows, unfortunately it wasn’t up and running, which is a pity because I love fountains and for some reason there aren’t enough of them in Britain. Nice trees though, the whole area is well planted tree wise. As you can see from the blue rope there was some sort of festival going on at Glamis and they were busy preparing the grounds for it.
Going beyond the castle you come to this dinky wee bridge which I just had to have a look at, bridges being something else I’m keen on. We never did find out what was over the bridge as you can see you aren’t meant to go over it. There were a few cars coming over it in the other direction, belonging to the Strathmore family I suppose.
These two statues are of Stuart kings. This one is James VI of Scotland – he was Mary, Queen of Scots’ son and when Elizabeth I of England died with no heir, he was next in line for the English throne. He’s known as James I in England and he is probably best known nowadays as the man who had the bible translated into English – hence it being known as the King James bible.
He was a bit ‘thrawn’ as we say and his determination to hold on to all of his power led to him having his head chopped off which more or less ended the English Civil War (which actually spread all over Britain.) It was about fifteen years later the Restoration brought his son, Charles II, back as king.
Captain Hook from J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan is traditionally modelled on Charles I.
You might have noticed if you look at my Library Thing widget that this book had featured on it for quite a while. The fact is that although I usually stick to reading one fiction book at a time, I was finding Witch Wood to be harder going than the other John Buchan books which I’ve read. So I ended up reading about four other books whilst reading it, just to give myself a wee break from the subject matter.
I think I’ve been reading too much about the religious struggles of seventeenth century Scotland and England recently. This one of course is set in the Scottish border country and is all about the Covenanters and the upheaval in the countryside with the defeated Montrose’s men (for the King) trying to avoid being caught by the supporters of the Covenanters.
There’s romance too of course with the young Presbyterian minister David Sempill falling for Katrine Yester, and if that isn’t enough for you there’s witchcraft going on too. It seems to have been something which afflicted every country at that time, from Britain, mainland Europe and to America, a sort of madness and hysteria which persecuted any poor souls (most often women) who were a nuisance to others, with women being called witches through the jealousy and wickedness of others. There were quite a few ‘witches’ done to death in Fife, near where I live.
Anyway, as you would expect, this is a well written book but the subject matter didn’t grab me as within my own family there were people who were still very much aggrieved that it was not the Episcopalians who won that ecclesiastical battle, consequently they were very bitter towards Presbyterians, (mainly me!) I can’t be bothered with that sort of religious bigotry nonsense.
My copy of the book is a paperback Canongate Classic and it has a glossary at the back – and I can tell you that I needed it, as there were a lot of Scots words in the book which I had never heard of before, the dialogue is very broad at times. Greenmantle is still my favourite John Buchan book.
As I said before, by the time we got to Alloway, which is just a short hop from Culzean Castle, Robert Burns’s birthplace was shut. But here is a photo of it anyway, thatched roof and all. Hopefully the next time we’ll get there earlier.
This one is of the main street in Alloway, speed bump and all! You can just see the gable end of Burns’s cottage at the top right hand side.
If you carry on walking past the cottage it isn’t long before you reach the Auld Kirk which was already a ruin by the time Robert Burns was a wee boy (he was born in 1759). It’s this church and graveyard which inspired him to write his poem Tam O’Shanter, which you can read here.
This sarcophagus is actually situated within the ruined kirk, it’s obviously very ancient.
Just along the road again a very short distance and you reach the River Doon. This is the famous Brig o’ Doon which features in the poem, with the witch pulling the horse’s tail as it gallops across the bridge to escape, of course witches can’t cross water!
I took this photo actually on the bridge which is very steep and the garden beyond is the Robert Burns memorial garden, sadly it was shut but from what I could see it looks beautiful.
This is a view from the old bridge to a newer bridge which isn’t all that new really. The pretty area of planting to the right belongs to a local hotel, it looks like a good place to relax and watch the river.
And this is the river from the other direction and yet another bridge.
I must say that Alloway was never a place which featured high on my list of ‘must visit’ places, but I was very agreeably surprised. The River Doon is really beautiful, fast flowing and clear and having been to the Burns house in Dumfries, I think he must have been pining for his beloved Alloway all the time he was there. Maybe that was why he wrote this song.
This is the first book which O.Douglas, sometimes known as Anna Buchan, had published (in 1912). It’s very autobiographical and it’s written in the form of a series of letters, the first of which is written from a ship in Liverpool which is ready to set off on the long voyage to India. Olivia is going to India to spend time with her bother, affectionately nicknamed Boggley. He is in India doing some sort of Empire related job.
We only read the letters which Olivia is writing and it’s very near the end before we learn who she’s actually writing them to. There are never any replies, although she sometimes alludes to something which has been mentioned in a letter to her. Obviously the early letters are all about the voyage and the other passengers but when Olivia reaches India she’s all over the place, experiencing as much of the life there as she can, taking trains across the country, visiting the Taj Mahal and meeting all sorts of people, good and bad.
So it’s all very different from her other books which are set in Scotland but she does write about home and reminisces about the past. She even mentions that she’s writing a book, encouraged by her brother John’s books’ good reviews.
So I started wondering how much of this book was fiction and I had a look at the index of O.Douglas’ biography “Unforgettable, Unforgotten” and sure enough she did go to India to visit one of her brothers. I’ll have to get around to reading that one soon.
I enjoyed Olivia in India and I think it is probably a realistic account of life in India for Anglo-Indians, the fear of mutinies and disease and the odd bomb or two being thrown as Indians became more and more dissatisfied with their position as part of the British Empire.
I borrowed “Olivia in India” from the library but I’ve promised myself that I’m not going to look at books when I return the ones I have out. Last week I went to two libraries in two different towns and apart from this book I also borrowed:
Symposium by Muriel Spark
The 12.30 from Croydon by Freeman Wills Crofts
Augustus Carp Esq. by Himself
The Murders in the Rue Morgue by Edgar Allen Poe
The Poe book is one of those ones that I feel I should have read years ago and for some reason or other I haven’t.
So, with an eye on the due back dates I’m neglecting my own books and Mary Stewart’s The Ivy Tree in particular has been glowering at me from the top of a pile of books which are balanced on a cantilevered sewing box near my bedside. I’m banning myself from the library!