Book Purchases from Edinburgh

Books Again

A recent trip to Edinburgh led to my TBR list expanding by twelve books – in no time – many of them could be described as being for young people or YA as they tend to be categorised nowadays, some of them I had never even heard of but I reasoned that if a book is a Newbery Medal winner it should be a good read – for all ages.

The Giant Baby by Allan Ahlberg
The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi
The Kirk of the Corrie by Isabel Cameron
White Bell Heather by Isabel Cameron
The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett
The Dividing Sea by Ruth Elwin Harris
The Eleventh Orphan by Joan Lingard
Cuckoo in the Nest by Michelle Magorian
Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild
Mail Royal by Nigel Tranter
Horned Helmet by Henry Treece
Legions of the Eagle by Henry Treece

Have you read any of these ones?

bag and baggage by Judy Allen – 20 Books of Summer

 The First Sister cover

bag and baggage by Judy Allen was first published in 1988, by The Women’s Press. It’s not a book that I bought, it was sent to me by mistake when I ordered another book from a bookseller – and they didn’t want me to send this one back. That was quite a few years ago now, and that’s why I added it to my 20 Books of Summer list.

Hilda is a pensioner who lives in a ground floor council flat. May, another pensioner lives opposite her, in a flat which is a mirror image of Hilda’s, but May’s flat is spotlessly clean, she’s completely obsessed with housework, whereas Hilda has just about given up. Whenever she tries to clean anything she just ends up making it even worse. Her flat is in a horrible state,she just can’t cope with it all. The kitchen is full of half used tins of cat food – I could almost smell it.

It’s not just her hygiene standards that have fallen though, Hilda has accumulated a pile of official looking brown envelopes, many of which she hasn’t even bothered to open. Her neighbour May does try to help Hilda but she just ends up becoming another problem as far as Hilda is concerned. She takes to staying in the park all day, then when her flat is stripped and padlocked by bailiffs the park becomes her home. She’s sleeping there with bags full of things that May had managed to rescue from her old flat, before the bailiffs struck. So, Hilda has become a bag lady, not that she recognises that fact. At times Hilda lives in a universe of her own making, where she is famous and being interviewed on TV, but in reality she’s taken to a geriatric ward which she seems quite happy about.

This is a well written book, but it’s not exactly an uplifting read, I’m sure it isn’t meant to be and I suppose the subject is an important one, people can suffer from mental illness for no particular reason, it isn’t always caused by a big trauma, and it can often lead to homelessness. There is some humour.

Judy Allen is better known as a children’s author, this is her second novel and her first December Flower was dramatised by Granada TV.

This was one of my 20 Books of Summer 2021.

Seals at Seafield, Firth of Forth, Kirkcaldy, Fife

One lovely afternoon last week we drove to the beach at Seafield, part of the Fife Coastal Walk. This cormorant was drying its wings in the sun. The concrete blocks are the remains of some of the World War 2 defences which thankfully were never tested, but you can understand that people would be worried about a Nazi invasion back then.

cormorant , Seafield, Kirkcaldy, Firth of Forth, Fife

red rocks, Seafield, Kirkcaldy, Fife, Firth of Forth

red rocks, Seafield, Kirkcaldy, Firth of Forth

If you click on the photo below you should be able to see the seals that were basking on the rocks. They blend in very well and I didn’t even realise they were there until I heard them mooing.

seals, Firth of Forth, Kirkcaldy, Seafield

There are lots of them on the rocks in the photo below. When we walked past them about ten minutes later some of them were still sticking to their little patch of rock, despite it almost being covered by the rising tide.

seals , Firth of Forth, Seafield, Kirkcaldy, Fife

I don’t know how people walking on the coastal path could disturb seals, anyway obviously it isn’t a good thing to do as it uses up a lot of their energy if they are frightened off their rocks before they’re ready to swim again.

Do not disturb seals, Seafield, Kirkcaldy

Seals, Seafield, Firth of Forth, Fife

Seals, Firth of Forth, Seafield, Kirkcaldy, Fife

It seems that you’re never very far from a ruin of some sort in Scotland and the one in the photo below is what is left of Seafield Tower which has been ravaged by the North Sea over the years. It’s in a very poor state now, it was built around 1542.

Seafield Tower, Kirkcaldy, Fife

After our wee walk we were too hot to do anything else, such as go to the shops or around the park, but it was nice to have a change of scenery.

White Boots by Noel Streatfeild – 20 Books of Summer 2021

 White Boots  cover

White Boots by Noel Streatfeild was first published in 1951. The Johnson family live in London, Harriet has been ill, her brothers think she looks like a big daddy-long-legs as she’s all hair and eyes and although she isn’t so ill now she still isn’t well enough to go to school, her legs feel like cotton wool. Her father George Johnson has a shop which is stocked by the produce that his elder brother sends to him for sale. George’s brother inherited the family estate, but he keeps all the best produce for himself, and sends George vegetables that are really poor quality and nobody wants to buy, and animals that have been shot or trapped and are long past being used for food. They’re really poverty stricken and can’t afford the good food that Harriet needs to get her strength back.

The doctor thinks that maybe taking up ice-skating will help to strengthen Harriet’s legs and at the ice rink she comes into contact with Lalla who also doesn’t go to school. She is taught at home by Miss Goldthorpe, a successful teacher who wants a change from teaching in schools, but most of Lalla’s time is spent at the ice rink. Her parents are dead and she’s being brought up by an aunt who is obsessed with turning Lalla into a champion ice skater – just like her father was. Lalla’s famous father died when she was a baby.

Harriet and Lalla strike up a friendship but it’s in jeapordy when Lalla’s tendency to be a ‘proper little madam’ almost ruins things.

This was a good read, with lots of common-sense and morality in the storyline. Lalla, having been brought up by her ambitious, snooty and self-important aunt needs some lessons in real life, which her old nanny does her best to instil in her.

The Johnson family, including Harriet’s three brothers and her mother also add a lot to the story. I wish I had read these books first when I was a youngster myself.

The Fascinating Hat by Isabel Cameron – 20 Books of Summer 2021

 The Fascinating Hat cover

The Fascinating Hat by the Scottish author Isabel Cameron was first published in 1941. The book begins with Jinty Campbell trimming a hat that she’s going to wear in a dramatic entertainment in the village hall the following week. She’s interrupted by the local minister who has a habit of just walking into people’s houses unannounced. With him is his nephew who is a doctor, he has come to stand in for the local doctor who is going on holiday. There’s quite a lot of snappy banter as the two young people seem to hit it off quickly, having a similar sense of humour.

The screeching of tyres in the street and a crash alert them to a taxi which has ended up on its side while swerving to avoid a child on the road. The young passenger has been knocked out, tended by Jinty who had been a VAD, and the new young doctor. But their patient has lost his memory and has no idea who he is.

Jinty is an apprentice at a firm of architects, planning to become an architect herself eventually. As far as she’s concerned it’s about time that houses were designed by women for women as men have no idea of how to design homes with women in mind, making a lot of unnecessary work for them. Cupboards too high up, the sink in a corner facing a wall, sometimes no sink at all, the dishes to be washed in a basin on the kitchen table, no cupboards for storage and unneccesary steps. Secretly her bosses have to admit that she has a point.

The architects had got a commission to build a wonderful large house locally, with no expense spared. Their client was abroad and wanted to come home apparently. As you can imagine Jinty is in her element.

This was an enjoyable read and I imagine that in 1941 it must have been very unusual to have a young woman with the ambition of becoming an architect, so that was quite a surprise to me. However the storyline took a weird turn when the patient’s memory was restored by an operation. I found the thought of that quite shuddersome as so many people in reality were damaged forever when doctor’s performed brain operations when probably what they needed was a good psychologist – or even a nice wee rest!

Branklyn Garden, Perth, Scotland – part 1

Earlier this week we visited Branklyn Garden in Perth which is a smallish garden, just two acres, which is owned by the Scottish National Trust. It’s a lovely place and has some gorgeous plants, it’s especially scenic at this time of the year with all the acers, rhododendrons, azaleas and Himalayan poppies in flower at the moment.

acer , meconopsis, Branklyn Garden, Perth, Scotland

There are some wee winding paths through the acers/Japanese maples, but there are wider paths too.

acers, Branklyn Garden, Perth, National Trust Scotland

The orange coloured flowers are particularly striking. I think these are azaleas rather than rhododendrons.

orange azalea , rhododendron, Branklyn Garden, Perth, National Trust Scotland

But the primulas and meconopsis are putiing on a great display at the moment too.

primulas, poppies, Branklyn Garden, Perth

I think you’ll agree that the acer below is contributing a lot of colour too, with it’s zingy citrus shade and the red of its seed pods.

Japanese maple, acer, Branklyn Garden, Perth

This garden is like a slice of heaven, the only thing which mars it is the sound of traffic from the nearby road below it. Obviously when the original owners of the garden built their house and garden in this location the traffic was a lot lighter.

orange azalea, Branklyn Garden, Perth

There is a small stream which runs through part of the garden, but I’ll leave the photos of that to another post. It was just so lovely to get out and about and do something quite normal but certainly different from sitting at home as we have had to do for so long, and it felt safe.

acer, Branklyn Garden, Perth

The Grove of Eagles by Winston Graham – 20 Books of Summer 2021

 The Grove of Eagles cover

The Grove of Eagles by Winston Graham was first published in 1963 and the setting is mainly Cornwall although at times the action moves to Spain and London.

The story is told by Maugan Killigrew who has grown up at Arwenack House in Cornwall. Maugan is his father’s eldest son but he is a base son – illegitimate – but as his mother is dead he has been brought up in his father’s household. It’s a busy one as his gentle step-mother seems to be forever pregnant. Maugan’s father is a philanderer and up to his ears in debt despite having an important situation as commander of a castle at the mouth of the River Fal.

Maugan’s ambition is to go to sea and make something of himself, as it’s the 1590s and Sir Walter Raleigh visits his father from time to time Maugan hopes that Raleigh will take him on in some capacity and he can make his fortune at sea. With the second Spanish Armada attacking the Cornish coast in 1597 things don’t quite go to plan for Maugan.

This was a good read, marred only slightly for me by what seemed like quite long sections of sea battles. As ever I’m more interested in the domestic side of history, and of course there’s a romance involved.

Some of the characters were based on actual people who lived in Cornwall at that time, and as you would expect from Winston Graham it’s all very authentic and atmospheric. It’s a fairly long read at 576 pages.

This book was one of my 20 Books of Summer.

Party Shoes by Noel Streatfeild

The Victorian Chaise-Longue cover

Party Shoes by Noel Streatfeild was first published in 1946. The setting is wartime England, beginning at the end of 1944. Selina is living with her aunt and uncle who have six children of their own. The Andrews family have taken her in as her parents are prisoners of war in Japan.

When a parcel arrives from America for Selina it turns out to be a beautiful long cream organdie dress with a blue sash and satin shoes. It’s totally impractical for use in a small English village. Selina just has nowhere to wear it to, and she fears that she’ll have grown out of it before she gets the chance to wear it.

Selina and her cousins decide to organise a pageant where they can all do a ‘turn’ and Selina can wear her dress while doing the prologue and epilogue. It was supposed to be a very short pageant just featuring the children but the whole thing snowballs with the arrival of Squadron Leader Philip Day who has arrived to stay with family, he’s recuperating with a damaged arm. Before the war Philip had produced stage-plays and is well known in theatrical circles. In no time just about everyone in the village and some nearby villages is involved with the production which has singing and dancing and all sorts going on, including the ballet dancers from a well known school of dancing.

At times the children resent how their idea has been hi-jacked by adults and I must say I quite agreed with them. One slight drawback about Streatfeild being able to write such believable child characters is that inevitably I’ll be really annoyed by one like Phoebe who seemed always to be on the verge of tears if not actually crying, but this was an entertaining read. I enjoyed the way the wartime problems featured in the story with clothes being a particular headache for the women who after five years of clothing coupons and rationing were having a hard time clothing their children, never mind making outfits for a pageant.

Barnard Castle, Teesdale, County Durham, England

It’s a couple of weeks since we were down in County Durham for a few days, one of the places we visited was the town Barnard Castle but we didn’t manage to get into the actual castle because strangely English Heritage had a strict booking policy so despite the fact that we are members of Historic Scotland and would have got free entry – we didn’t manage to get in at all. It’s particularly weird as there were hardly any other visitors and as the castle itself is a ruin it’s all in the open air – hopefully we’ll get in there one day. At least we got some photos and had a walk by the river and around the town.

Barnard Castle,County Durham, castle ruin

The castle looms high above the town as you would expect. Of course it has been in the news recently as the place that Dominic Cummings visited to ‘test his eyesight’ when the rest of us were adhering to a strict lockdown and staying very local!
Barnard Castle,Teesdale, Counry Durham, castle ruin

Barnard Castle stitch, County Durham, castle ruin

The castle was founded in the 12th century and is in a lovely position high above the River Tees as you can see below. I think this is the first time I’ve ever seen the Tees, I love rivers and this one is very scenic in this area anyway and looks unpolluted as far as the naked eye is concerned.

Barnard Castle + Bridge, County Durham, River Tees

You get a good view of the river when standing on the old stone bridge – as you can see.

River Tees, Barnard Castle, County Durham

The town itself is a nice place to visit with interesting looking independent shops – if you’re that way inclined. I only bought a book (surprise surprise) which I got from the Oxfam charity shop.

High Wages by Dorothy Whipple – Classics Club list

 High Wages cover

I’ve had High Wages by Dorothy Whipple on my Classics Club second list for ages, despite the fact that I know so many people have loved it. The thickness of my edition was putting me off I think, unusually for me it’s a first edition which I just about fell over in an antiques shop which only had a couple of books in it, it cost me all of £2, I felt so lucky as I had been meaning to get the book for ages and just hadn’t got around to ordering it.

Anyway, I loved this one which begins with Jane Carter visiting the small town of Tidsley on her half-day off. She works in a draper’s shop in a nearby town but she’s drawn to a notice which has just been put in the window of another draper’s shop. They’re looking for a new assistant and Jane plucks up the courage to go in and enquire about the job. She’s successful, and so begins her new life. There’s no doubting that Jane is ambitious and has a good business mind, and she improves the business for the owner Mr Chadwick, but he is not at all grateful and exploits her financially. That just encourages Jane to long even more to have a shop of her own.

Whipple captures the small town atmosphere so well, with the gossip and snobbery, clandestine relationships and unrequited love. The characters are all so recognisable, and although Jane is a very likeable person, she’s not perfect – and she knows it.

The tale begins in 1913 so it isn’t long before WW1 changes things in the town although it doesn’t play a huge part in the book. I was amused to see quite a lot of mentions of aspidistra plants in this book, especially after reading George Orwell’s Keep the Aspidistra Flying recently.

I’ve only read one other book by Dorothy Whipple – Someone at a Distance – which I did enjoy (twice inadvertently as I had forgotten I had read it some years before!!) I’m sure that High Wages will stay with me much longer. I read this one for the Classics Club. Sadly my 1930 copy of the book doesn’t have the dust cover.