Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times

Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times is a meme which was started by Judith at Reader in the Wilderness and it has turned out to be a really useful tour around my own books, often books that I’ve forgotten that I had even bought and haven’t got around to reading. However this week my shelf is almost full of books that I’ve already read, in fact some of my favourite books reside on this shelf and I really like all the authors. Click the photo to enlarge it.

Bookshelf

I loved Olivia Manning’s Balkan trilogy Fortunes of War and went on to read her Levant trilogy too. You can read what I thought about Fortunes of War here. I see that I read it back in 2010 in my very early blogging days – how time flies.

Men Do Not Weep by Beverly Nichols is one of only two books on this shelf that I haven’t read, apparently it’s a political book which was published in 1941 so it should be interesting. He’s better known for the books that he wrote based on his life, buying houses and making them into homes for himself with especial interest in planning the garden. There’s quite a lot of snooty wit involved in his writing. The series which begins with Down the Garden Path is a good place to start if you’re interested in reading his books. It was first published in 1932 so it’s a real blast from the past, for me these are real comfort reads. You can see my thoughts on some of his books here.

Pied Piper by Nevil Shute is the other book that I haven’t got around to reading yet. I think it’s the fact that it’s a very old paperback that has put me off from reading it. Having just read the blurb again it sounds like it’s right up my street. The setting is France in 1940.

John Howard, a retired country solicitor, holidaying in the Jura mountains, is persuaded to escort two English children home to safety.

Helped by the stubbornness and the patience of old age, hindered by the addition of another five waifs and strays, he makes his way across a crumbling and defeated France.

Have any of you read this one, if so tell me what you thought of it?

Snow by Orhan Pamuk – 20 Books of Summer

Snow by Orhan Pamuk was first published in the UK in 2004, was originally published in Turkey in 2002 and was translated by Maureen Freely. This is the thirteenth book that I’ve read from my 20 Books of Summer list and I put it on the list because it’s one of the many books in translation that Jack has bought over the years and I thought it was about time I gave some of them a go.

I must admit that I had a hard trudge through the first half of this book. The setting is Kars which is a remote city in Turkey, it’s where the poet Ka grew up, he has been living in Frankfurt for the last few years and he has returned supposedly to gather information to help him write an article for a German newspaper. The trouble for me was that the modern day Turkey kept getting in the way as everything at the moment in Turkey is the opposite of what it was in this book. Now the country is ruled by a supposedly fundamentalist Islamic leader. In Kars young women are beginning to cover their head with scarves and are even being banned from school and colleges if they refuse to remove their headscarves. There has been a spate of young women committing suicide, possibly because of the pressure to go bare headed but it might be because of the pressure their parents put on them to marry. Ka wants to investigate but he becomes embroiled with the political situation, the Islamists, army and the never changing plight of the Kurds feature. As the city becomes cut off due to the heavy snowfall there’s a clash between the political Islamists and the army. Ka had already witnessed a murder – it’s not a healthy place for him to be.

He has also fallen in love/lust with Ipec a beautiful woman that he has known since they were at school together so there’s romance of a sort here too. Strangely the author himself appears in this book towards the end, I’m told this is normal for a Pamuk book. Half-way through the book I thought I would probably give it three stars but by the end I upgraded it to four.

Edited to add:

One character more or less predicts the future in Turkey exactly as it is now when he says –

“If they don’t let the army and the state deal with these dangerous fanatics, we’ll end up back in the middle ages, sliding into anarchy, travelling the doomed path already well travelled by so many tribal nations in Asia and the Middle East.”

Cockburnspath and Cove, Borders, Scotland

Last Friday was a beautiful blue sky day which was great as we had arranged to go and visit some friends for the afternoon. The journey to Cockburnspath – or Co’path as it is known to the locals takes us over the new Queensferry Crossing (bridge) south of Edinburgh and it’s about a 160 mile all round journey for us, it was our first big day out since the lockdown in February. If you’re interested in history have a look here, it’s a very historic area.

We’ve been going on daily walks during the lockdown but it was just so nice to walk somewhere different. The first stretch of our legs took us past St Helen’s Church, That’s my sister’s name and I hadn’t even realised there was a Saint Helen. The church dates from the 1500s.

Cockburnspath Church, Borders, Scotland

If you’ve been visiting ‘Pining’ for a while then you’ve probably seen photos like these before. We always walk to the nearby village of Cove on the coast with Uther the red and white setter. Apparently there aren’t many of that breed left. Uther is a bit daft and unusually for a dog he never goes into the water. He drank some sea-water as a pup and it seems to have put him off having too close an encounter ever again. It’s a pity some humans don’t have that sort of aversion when they have their first hangover!

Cove Beach + Uther, near Cockburnspath, Borders, Scotland

The two old cottages are still standing, no doubt one day they’ll be washed away by a big storm as happened to the many other cottages that were here. Now these ones are just used for storing creels and various other bits and pieces of fishing gear. I wouldn’t mind living in one of them – for fine days only.

Cove Beach, Borders, Scotland

It was nice to see friends and have a wee bit of normality back in our lives, but I still don’t want to go anywhere crowded where you can’t socially distance easily.

Red sky at night – in Fife, Scotland

Fife evening sky

We’ve had some terrible weather this July, torrential rain lasting for ages, but we have also had some wonderful sunsets and cloud formations during our long summer gloamings.

Fife sky, evening sky, Scotland

I knew that we would have to pay for all that glorious weather we had in May – in the shape of poor June and July weather. I hope things become more settled in August, it probably will be better just as the schools begin to go back (however they’ve decided to do it) because that’s normally what happens, not that there’s anything normal about 2020.

Fife sky,sunset, Scotland

An Old-Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott 20 Books of Summer

An Old-Fashioned Girl cover

An Old-Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott was first published in 1870, but six chapters had been published in a magazine the previous year.

It’s the story of Polly who is the teenage daughter of a rural church minister and his wise and sensible wife, money in that family isn’t plentiful, so when Polly travels to Boston to visit her friend Fanny she finds herself in a situation she hasn’t been in before. Fanny’s family is a wealthy one, living in a grand house with servants. Material things are obviously very important to them, but when compared with Polly’s family and upbringing Polly can see that the money and easy life hasn’t made Fanny’s family happy. In particular Fanny’s mother is immature and lacking in any common-sense, her children are argumentative and spoiled spendthrifts. Fanny’s father sees Polly’s kindness and warmth as being a good influence on his family, but really he’s just a provider of money as far as they’re concerned. Fanny’s mother reminded me in some ways of Mrs Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, she shrieks and takes to her bed when she gets bad news and evidently only married her husband for his money.

This book covers several years, taking Polly and Fanny into their early 20s. Polly is determined to be independent, she’s working as a music teacher to help her brother get through college financially. Teaching small children turns out to be much more difficult than she thought it would be. There’s romance of course and it’s quite obvious how things will end up for Polly. She’s determined to marry someone that she loves rather than ‘an establishment’. I thought of Lizzie Bennet and Pemberley!

This was an enjoyable read, I know that if I had read this book when I was a youngster I would really have identified with Polly, and not being a wild consumerist or interested in designer labels, make-up and nail bars I still do identify with her really. I found this book to be a bit too preachy and just a wee bit too sentimental, but that was the fashion of the time. I don’t think there’s a sequel to it, which is a shame, I would have liked to read more about Polly as she aged.

Thanks for sending me this one Jennifer.

I read this one for 20 Books of Summer.

The Citadel by A.J. Cronin

The Citadel cover

The Citadel by the Scottish author A.J. Cronin was first published in 1939. It was the fifth book that he had had published and prior to taking up writing he had been a doctor for ten years. The Citadel must have been cooking away in his head for several years before he wrote it. This book is much more important than most fiction as it has been regarded as having been instrumental in the setting up of the National Health Service.

At the beginning the setting is 1924 in a coalmining village called Drineffy in Wales where Dr Andrew Manson has taken his first position after graduating. He’s going to be the assistant to a doctor who has worked there for years and is popular, but Andrew quickly discovers that he will have to do all of the work as Dr Page is bed-ridden, having had a stroke. This doesn’t stop Page’s spinster sister from grabbing the vast majority of the money from the ‘business’ leaving Andrew with less than a pound a week for pocket money. It’s a miserable dirty and poverty stricken place but Andrew works hard and is popular and he’s interested in doing research into lung diseases so he has plenty of interesting case, and to cap his happiness he marries Christine, a young schoolteacher. But not everyone is happy with the young doctor, he has made some enemies and that culminates with Andrew leaving the village to work in a larger Welsh town.

Andrew and Christine eventually end up moving to London where he buys a deceased doctor’s practice, but most of his patients are poor so life is still a struggle. When Andrew meets up with one of his friends from university he can’t help being jealous of his riches. He wasn’t as clever or hard working as Andrew but had concentrated on looking prosperous and soon was, with wealthy patients, most of whom were not at all ill but were lonely or hypochondriacs. The successful medics were selling medicine which was mainly made up of coloured water with a bit of ether added. In fact they weren’t any better than snake oil salesmen. Andrew is seduced by the high lifestyle and as he gets richer his marriage deteriorates until he and Christine are barely speaking to each other. She longs for the countryside and a garden but spends her days standing in a cupboard making up the fake medicines.

A tragedy wakes Andrew up to what he has been doing, and he realises that so many of his Harley Street colleagues are charlatans doing much more harm than good and doing very well out of it financially.

This is a sad book at times, but is a great read and when it was published it was Gollancz’s highest selling book. As you can imagine Cronin made plenty of enemies, and a group of medical specialists tried to have the book banned which probably just about guaranteed its success.

The Citadel was made into a film in 1938 and there was a BBC adaptation in 1983.

Call for the Dead by John le Carre

 Call for the Dead  cover

Call for the Dead by John le Carre was first published in 1961 and it’s the first book in his George Smiley series. I’ve really enjoyed his Smiley books in the past but I really wish I had started to read them in the correct order. I had always been puzzled by Smiley’s strange marriage to the wildly unfaithful Lady Ann, so I was glad to discover from this book some of the history behind the couple.

As soon as I started reading this book I realised that it had been made into a film and I had seen it fairly recently, it didn’t go into the details of the marriage though so I did learn more from the book.

George Smiley had been given the job of questioning one of the British Intelligence staff members who has come under some suspicion, he’s supected of spying for the East Germans. Smiley takes him to a park to have an informal chat with him but despite the low stress venue and laid-back style, the suspect soon ends up dead, supposedly at this own hands, but Smiley isn’t convinced, it just doesn’t add up to him. His bosses in the ‘Circus’/ British Intelligence seem keen to blame Smiley for the death, but soon Smiley himself is attacked.

This is a suspenseful read, but if you’re a James Mason fan you might want to seek out the film which is called The Deadly Affair.

Armchair Travelling – Lindisfarne / Holy Island, near Berwick on Tweed – part 2

If you are visiting Lindisfarne Castle you should be warned that you have to be fairly fit to get up to it, there’s a very steep hill and the pathway has been made with rounded cobblestones which aren’t that easy to walk on, even if you’re wearing trainers or completely flat shoes. The priory is much easier to get around though, and that bit interested me most – I do love a good ruin.

Lindisfarne Priory, Holy Island, National Trust

These ruins date from the 12th century and they are looked after by English Heritage.
Strangely the graveyard seems still to be in use with some fairly modern headstones, presumably the villagers can be buried there.

Lindisfarne Priory, Holy Island, National Trust

Irish monks settled on Lindisfarne in AD 635 which is the time of the Northumbrian king Oswald. He asked a monk from the Scottish island of Iona to settle at Lindisfarne and founded the monastery. In the 670s Cuthbert went there as a monk and he eventually became the most important saint in northern England.

Lindisfarne Priory,Holy Island, National Trust

Lindisfarne became an important centre of Christian learning, but where there was Christianity there was silver and gold – those pilgrims have always meant good business for churches, so the Vikings were drawn to such places for the easy pickings. On the 8th of June 793 the Vikings made a raid on the island, the first of such in western Europe but certainly not the last.

Lindisfarne Priory, Holy Island, English Heritage

It was murder and mayhem and Saint Cuthbert hadn’t helped them so it was psycholgiclly devastating to the believers and most of the survivors ended up leaving Lindisfarne, taking Cuthbert’s body with them and settling inland. The modern sculpture below is of Saint Cuthbert, it’s not really to my taste.

Lindisfarne Priory,St Cuthbert

You might have heard of the Lindisfarne Gospels – an illuminated book of the four gospels which was created on Lindisfarne around the year AD 700. If you click the link and then click on the image you can see 21 photos of some of the pages.

Lindisfarne Priory, Holy Island, English Heritage

I really enjoyed seeing the ruins, it’s quite easy to imagine how it must have been in its glory – and the visitations of the Vikings too!

Six in Six – 2020 edition – My Choices

six

For the first time I’m participating in Six in Six which is hosted by Jo at The Book Jotter. The idea is that you choose six books that you’ve read in the last six months, from six different categories, click the links if you want to read my thoughts on the books.

Six books by Scottish authors:

1. Agatha Raisin and the Dead Ringer by M.C. Beaton
2. The Paper Cell by Louise Hutcheson
3. A Rope in Case by Lilian Beckwith
4. Still Glides the Stream by D.E. Stevenson
5. My Friends the Miss Boyds by Jane Duncan
6. The Double Image by Helen MacInnes

Six historical fiction books:

1. Black Sheep by Georgette Heyer
2. The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel
3. Joseph Knight by James Robertson
4. Young Bess by Margaret Irwin
5. Elizabeth, Captive Princess by Margaret Irwin
6. Niccolo Rising by Dorothy Dunnett

Six books in translation:

1. East of the Sun, West of the Moon by Kay Nielsen
2. The Little Town Where Time Stood Still by Bohumil Hrabal
3. The Master and Margarita by Mikhael Bulgakov
4. Wolf Among Wolves by Hans Fallada
5. Autumn Quail by Naguib Mahfouz
6. Snow by Orhan Pamuk (still to be reviewed)


Six children’s books:

1. Peter Pan in Scarlet by Geraldine McCaughrean
2. The House in Norham Gardens by Penelope Lively
3. Eight Cousins by L.M. Montgomery
3. The Mousewife by Rumer Godden
4. Peter Duck by Arthur Ransome
5. From the Mixed- Up Files of Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
6. The Story of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting


Six vintage crime books:

1. The Blind Side by Patricia Wentworth
2. Hide My Eyes by Margery Allingham
3. The White Cottage Mystery by Margery Allingham
4. The Case of the Famished Parson by George Bellairs
5. Blood on the Mink by Robert Silverberg
6. Out of the Past by Patricia Wentworth

Six by new to me authors:

1. Young Bess by Margaret Irwin
2. The Paper Cell by Louise Hutcheson
3. Greenery Street by Denis Mackail
4. The Glorious Thing by Christine Orr
5. Merlin Dreams by Peter Dickinson
6. Autumn Quail by Naguib Mahfouz

I’ve really enjoyed compiling this post and I’ve also learned a lot from it. I hadn’t realised that so far this year I’ve not read much in the way of vintage crime when compared with past years, and my reading of classics has just about fallen off a cliff this year – so far. I’m putting that down to the appearance of Coronavirus/Covid 19 in the world as I’ve been concentrating on reading lighter fiction, especially at the beginning.

Thanks for organising this Jo.

Armchair Travelling – Lindisfarne / Holy Island, near Berwick on Tweed

Lindisfarne Castle, Holy Island

We had wanted to visit Lindisfarne/Holy Island near Berwick-upon-Tweed for decades and often drove past it on our many journeys up and down the UK – but the tide never seemed to be right for us and we feared getting stranded on the island. But last year we planned it all out, looking up the tides so that we would have plenty of time to investigate the place. We parked the car, along with many others, it was a really bright and hot day and walked around the small village, it must be strange to live there I think. We walked along the road heading for Lindisfarne Castle which is very historic and ancient, dating from at least 1550 but in the Edwardian era it got a make-over by the famous architect/designer Sir Edwin Lutyens so it’s now a mish-mash of ancient and not so ancient. In 1901 the castle was bought by Edward Hudson who was a publishing magnate and owned the magazine Country Life. I believe it had a reputation in those days as a party destination for the very well-heeled. Now it is owned by the National Trust

Lindisfarne Castle, Holy Island, National Trust

In the photo above you can see people walking along the road towards the castle. This is still a place of pilgrimage for some Christians, and they tend to walk barefoot over the sand/mud across to the island to emulate the pilgrims of previous centuries.

This is the modern entrance to the castle.

Lindisfarne Castle, National Trust

For some reason there is a model ship hanging from the ceiling in one of the rooms, it makes a change from Airfix aeroplanes I suppose! It’s a lovely model anyway.

Lindisfarne Castle, (ship)

Every castle needs a kitchen, I’d quite happily settle down in this one, although I imagine the cooking range would be a bit of a nightmare to control.

Castle Fireplace, Lindisfarne, Holy Island

Speaking of settling, what do you think of this settle by the range? Just add a few cushions and I think it would be a lovely cosy place to sit and pass the time knitting, the very high back would certainly keep any draughts at bay.

Lindisfarne Castle Settle, Holy Island, National Trust

This dresser completes the kitchen. There’s plenty of storage space I suppose for dishes, pans and utensils in the end cupboards.

Lindisfarne Castle cupboard, Holy Island, National Trust

It all looks very peaceful now but you can read more about the violent history of the castle here. Viking raids and all.