Merlin Dreams by Peter Dickinson

Merlin Dreams cover

I had completely forgotten about Merlin Dreams by Peter Dickinson until I came across it while Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times, so I decided to make it my next read – before I forgot about it again! The book is illustrated by Alan Lee, I really like his work, you can see some of it here.

This isn’t really a book for children, or if it is then they are older children. It’s 167 pages long and was published in 1988.

If you know the Arthurian legends you’ll remember that Merlin was tricked by the young woman he was besotted with and the upshot was that he is entombed beneath rocks, unable to get out and there he dreams – medieval Celtic fantasies.

As you would expect the stories feature dragons, swords, unicorns, mermaids. knights – the usual Arthurian fare – entertaining reads and good for bedtime, no matter what your age, and there’s some poetry thrown in too.

Apparently the illustrator Alan Lee is well known for illustrating Tolkien books and the author Peter Dickinson is well known for his crime fiction as well as books for children.

Branklyn Garden, Perth, Scotland – part 1

acer, Branklyn Garden, Perth

acer, Branklyn Garden, Perth

acer, Japanese Maple, Branklyn Garden, Perth

From Saturday we in Scotland were allowed to travel further than five miles (unless for food shopping) for the first time since the lockdown began in early March. So we took the opportunity to visit Branklyn Garden in Perth, on the way to visiting family thirty miles away from us. As you can see from the three photos above Branklyn has some lovely acers/Japanese maples.

This type of cherry tree bark just keeps getting better every year.

Cherry/Prunus Bark, Branklyn Garden, Perth

Below is a photo of delphiniums (I think) and an unusual Rhododendron with the new growth being coloured a sort of pale orange.
delphiniums, rhododendron, Branklyn Garden, Perth

Brown-Leaved Rhoddie, Branklyn Garden, Perth

Quite a few other people had had the same idea and I was surprised to see that the cafe was open, (but only for sitting outdoors.) Things felt almost normal – almost but not quite. There were masks and hand sanitiser at the entrance, but we had brought our own.

The garden is set in about two acres and dates from 1922 when this hillside orchard plot was bought by a couple who wanted to build an Arts and Crafts house there surrounded by a garden which has lots of winding paths around gorgeous planting.

Nowadays Branklyn Garden is owned by the Scottish National Trust. Sadly it was opened up just too late for us to admire the great banks of Himalayan Meconopsis, there were just a few stray petals left on them, not worth photographing. I was pleased to capture this fleeting butterfly though, I think it’s a tortoiseshell although I have no idea what the shrub is called.

Butterfly, Branklyn Garden, Perth

Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times

It’s Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times again which is hosted by Judith at Reader in the Wilderness. I must say that I’m really enjoying this meme, getting a keek at other readers’ bookshelves and at the same time it’s pushing me to read books that I had forgotten I had, mind you the lack of visits to libraries during this Covid lockdown is helping too. Last week I read Merlin Dreams which featured in my ‘Insane’ post.

Songs with Music from a Child's Garden of Verses cover
The Barefoot Book of Ballet Stories cover

So this week I’m sticking to the same bookshelf – Songs with Music from a Child’s Garden of Verses by R.L. Stevenson is illustrated by Margaret W. Tarrant. It’s an old book dating from either 1918 or the 1930s depending on who you believe. I think I bought my copy at a specialist book fair, possibly the Christian Aid one in Edinburgh which of course didn’t take place this year. Anyway the illustrations are charming and you can see some of them here.

The Barefoot Book of Ballet Stories by Jane Yolen and Heidi E. Y. Stemple is illustrated by Rebecca Guay and is obviously aimed at older children – girls I suppose. It features Coppelia, Swan Lake, Cinderella, The Nutcracker, Shim Chung: The Blind Man’s Daughter, The Sleeping Beauty and Daphnis and Chloe. You can see some of the illustrations here.

Mother Goose cover

I love Michael Foreman’s illustrations and his Mother Goose book has a foreword by Iona Opie, the collector of children’s rhymes and folklore. Opie says: ‘The nursery rhyme repertoire stays remarkably constant. What need for new nursery rhymes when there are always new children?’ But this book contains quite a lot of rhymes that I had never heard of. This is quite a thick book with 152 pages jam packed with rhymes and hundreds of illustrations and it even has an index of first lines. You can see some of Foreman’s illustrations here.

Fairy Tales from Hans Andersen Cover

Lastly, Fairy Tales from Hans Andersen is a classic illustrated edition and the illustrations are by multiple artists, including Mabel Lucie Attwell, Edmund Dulac, Kay Nielsen, Arthur Rackham, W. Heath Robinson and many more. The back cover features the image below.

Attwell

A Couple of Links

Here we are almost at yet another Saturday, I can’t believe how quickly the days go by in these Covid-19 times. Anyway, last Saturday there was an interesting article in the Guardian Review – Me and my detective – Partners in Crime. In it some crime authors write about their detectives. How does it feel to live with the same fictional character for decades, and when do you decide to call it a day? You can read the article via the link above. It includes Lee Child, Val McDermid, Ann Cleeves, Ian Rankin, Lynda La Plante, Jo Nesbo and others.

Elsewhere, at Son of the Rock in fact – Jack always has a music post on Fridays, sadly it’s often inspired by the death of an artist that he has admired over the years, but his recent music post is a comparison of two versions of The In Crowd, the original by Dobie Gray and the early 1970s Bryan Ferry version, though he didn’t choose a video of Ferry performing it. Ahem, that one reminds me so much of my school days and I actually bought and still own the album it comes from. Click the link to hear them.

Two versions of The In Crowd.

Ferry’s version was released in 1974 but this performance is from two years later. It’s been captioned In Crown for some odd reason. There were a lot of dodgy moustaches around in the mid 1970s. That one was a mistake, Bryan.

The House of Doctor Dee by Peter Ackroyd

The House of Doctor Dee cover

The House of Doctor Dee by Peter Ackroyd was first published in 1993 and it has probably been in our house since around that date – on Jack’s shelves – but the title just jumped out at me a couple of weeks ago, probably because I had seen the name in the Maragret Irwin book I had been reading then. I decided to add it to my 20 Books of Summer list. I think this is number 6 for me that I’ve read from my list so far and it’s the first book that I’ve read by this author, but won’t be the last.

Matthew Palmer has inherited a house from his father, it’s in London’s Clerkenwell and nobody had known that it had been owned by the father. Matthew is intrigued as you would expect and even more so when he visits the house and realises that it’s actually very old. As Matthew is a historical researcher it’s right up his street. But the house has a strange atmosphere, especially in the cellar which must at one time have been the ground floor but has sunk over the last five or so centuries. Strangely Matthew’s friend Daniel seems to be familiar with the house already.

Looking through some of his father’s papers Matthew realises that his father was engaged in his own historical research, based on the writings of Doctor Dee who was a 16th century alchemist, mathematician, astronomer and astrologer, and some say was a sorcerer. He certainly managed to escape death when he was arrested by Mary Tudor’s henchmen and taken to the tower, accused of trying to murder the queen using sorcery.

The narrative flits between Matthew’s thoughts and problems and Doctor Dee’s thoughts, research and home life and there’s a sense of spooky creepiness permeating the contemporary Clerkenwell house. It’s a good and interesting read.

The blurb on the back from the Sunday Telegraph says:

‘He is such a master of mood, tension, angst, foreboding, frisson, but also of tenderness and exaltation, that one is drawn into his tale as by a magus.’

The cover is of a portrait of Doctor Dee which is apparently in the Ashmolean Museum, but the artist is unknown. Dee certainly looks the part though.

My garden in Fife, Scotland

Last week we had a couple of lovely blue sky sunny and hot days – hot by our standards anyway. Then of course the thunder and monsoon-like rain followed, and it’s still with us, well maybe not quite monsoon proportions but very damp indeed. I knew we would pay for all that gorgeous sunshine we had back in May!

my garden, Fife

But while the sun shone I took a few photos of my garden. Actually it looks a bit different now as it has been tidied up or redded up as we sometimes say in Scotland. I had to wait for my brown garden waste bin to be emptied as it was stuffed to the gunnels.

my garden

I got quite excited when I got an email from the Scottish National Trust telling me that some of their gardens will be opening on Friday. After the long Covid-19 lockdown a historic garden visit sounded perfect to me, especially as we’ve only been allowed to travel no further than 5 miles, unless it’s for essential shopping such as for food. The garden at nearby Falkland Palace or even Branklyn in Perth beckoned to me in my mind, but having seen the weather forecast for Friday I doubt if a garden visit will be on the cards. I live in hope!

my garden, Fife

My Friend Flora by Jane Duncan – 20 Books of Summer

My Friend Flora cover

My Friend Flora by Jane Duncan was published in 1962, it’s part of a long series of ‘My Friend’ books. These are generally a light-hearted keek into another way of life, the setting is the Highlands of Scotland, a remote crofting community where all families have a nickname. Often it’s just the name of the farm where they live. Janet Sandison’s family are all named Reachfar as a surname. Reachfar being the name of where they live.

It begins in 1915 when Janet goes to the small local primary school and meets Flora Smith for the first time. Flora is a few years older than Janet and her bye-name as they call it is Bedamned because her father is always using that word, but it seems that the bye-name is more like a curse on the family as disaster after disaster befalls them. For that reason this book is different from the others in the series that I’ve read, admittedly I haven’t got my hands on many of them yet.

Janet is sorry for Flora, it seems like a life of selfless drudgery with no thanks from anyone, particularly her harsh and morose father, but Flora is happy with her lot and her situation shows that what seems appalling to one person is a source of love and even pride to another.

Towards the end of the book the action moves to the USA briefly, via a trip on a ship and aeroplane, something that would have seemed very exotic to most readers of the book.

This was an enjoyable read despite Flora being the sort of character that you wanted to give a good shake and also some uncomfortable scenes involving a dog being tormented. There is comeuppance which is always a good thing.

20 books of summer

Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times

This week in Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times which is hosted by Judith at Reader in the Wilderness I’m focusing on books for children (of all ages).

Children's Bookshelf

This shelf is in the smallest spare bedroom of our home and when we moved here after Jack retired I grabbed it as a sort of hobby room of my own for my stuff, which includes books and sewing/crafting materials. It is not at all tidy in fact sometimes the whole place resembles a burst cushion, but if you are a crafter you’ll probably understand how that comes about!

Anyway the shelf is home to a lot of classic children’s illustrated books – Winnie the Pooh, The Secret Garden, Peter Pan, The Wind in the Willows, European fairy tales and others.

I love Kate Greenaway’s illustrations although some people complain that her figures aren’t well proportioned. I sort of agree but they are very charming and the copy of The Pied Piper of Hamelin by Robert Browning is lovely. Apparently the book was first published in 1888 with wood block designs engraved by Edward Evans. You can see some of the Kate Greenaway illustrations here.

I also love Arthur Rackham’s illustrations. My copy of his version of Rip van Winkle which is written by Washington Irving is a delight, the colours are muted as you would expect of Rackham, but that adds to their attraction to me. You can see some of the images here.

Melisande cover

I had to buy E.Nesbit’s Melisande when I saw that it was illustrated by P.J. Lynch. I wanted it as soon as I saw the cover. I love those medieval European buildings as well as Melisande and her gorgeous flowing locks. You can see some of the illustrations here.

The Nutcracker retold by Anthea Bell has lovely illustrations, although more modern than some of the books on this shelf. The illustrations are by Lisbeth Zwerger, you can see some of her work here.

Lastly – for the moment – Merlin Dreams is a book that I haven’t read yet. It’s written by Peter Dickinson and illustrated by Alan Lee who is apparently a highly regarded fantasy illustrator. This one doesn’t have so many illustrations, it’s obviously meant for older children. Alan Lee’s work is very ethereal looking to me, perfect for this book of Celtic fantasy. You can see some of his work here

Tynemouth Castle and Priory, Tynemouth, Tyne and Wear

I can hardly believe it, but way back in December 2019 we visited some friends down in Sunderland, the north-east of England, and while there we went to see Tynemouth Castle and Priory, we had never been there before. December seems a strange time to be taking a longish trip ‘down south’ but it was a very mild winter.

Tynemouth  Castle

Tynemouth  Castle  and Priory, Tynemouth, Tyne and Wear

The castle is a ruin but the priory part is quite well preserved. If you are interested you can read about the history of the place here. This was one of the many religious places that were suppressed by Henry VIII during his Anne Boleyn phase.
Tynemouth  Castle, Tynemoth, Tyne and Wear

Tynemouth  Castle, stained glass, Tynemouth, Tyne and Wear

As usual a lot of the stonework would have been re-used in local buildings after the priests and monks were driven off. Then the area was heavily fortified, something which continued for years because of the strategic position overlooking the River Tyne and in the photo below you can see the remains of the gun emplacements from the Second World War
Tynemouth  Castle, Tyne and Wear

The earliest settlement here dates from the Iron Age 800 BC – AD 43, but the ruins that we can see today date from 1090.

Tynemouth  Castle, Tynemouth, Tyne and Wear

It’s an interesting place to visit and if you happen to be there at a weekend then it’s worthwhile having a look at the market which is situated at the railway station. There are all sorts of stalls and Jack and I managed to find some books worth buying – and I couldn’t resist buying some old glass bottles, Veno’s cough mixture and such, they wash up on the beaches around the area apparently.

Tynemouth  Castle entrance,Tyne and Wear,

Elizabeth and the Prince of Spain by Margaret Irwin

 Elizabeth and the Prince of Spain cover

Elizabeth and the Prince of Spain by Margaret Irwin was first published in 1953 and it’s the third in the trilogy which begins with Young Bess with the second one being Elizabeth, Captive Princess.

Although I really enjoyed this one I didn’t love it as much as Young Bess, I’m sure that that is because the subject of that one is more interesting and speculative as well as suspenseful. Mind you there is always suspense, or certainly there would have been for Elizabeth herself as her life was held in the hands of Queen Mary, her rather flaky half-sister. Not that Mary Tudor really acknowledged her as she preferred to believe – or pretended to believe – that Elizabeth was not Henry VIII’s daughter but was the daughter of Smeaton, the music teacher who had been accused of adultery with Anne Boleyn.

Anyway, this one begins in 1554, Philip has been told that he must marry Queen Mary Tudor, he’s not keen to do it, she’s years older than him, sickly and he’s happy with his own choice of woman with whom he has had several children. The prospect of living in the notoriously damp and cold England doesn’t attract him either but it’s a political marriage, forming an alliance between England and Spain against France. It would also strengthen the English Catholic ties to Rome which had been broken by Henry VIII.

Philip’s father had been keen on Princess Elizabeth being executed before Philip sailed for England, he saw her existence as a threat. When Queen Mary died he wanted Philip to become King of England which wouldn’t be so easy with a daughter of Henry VIII in the foreground.

We’ll never know what the relationship between Philip and Elizabeth was but as Elizabeth survived I think it’s fair to say that she must have exerted her charms and her political instincts to do so, at the same time as managing to keep on the right side of Mary who was an awkward character at the best of times but as she was always ill and was jealous of her beautiful half-sister then Elizabeth must truly have felt that the sword of Damocles was constantly hanging over her.

Despite obviously knowing the outcome of this story the author managed to create an atmosphere of fear and suspense.

It was a surprise to me that Philip II was described as being silver fair, not at all as I had imagined him, or he had been portrayed in any TV adaptations.

Phillip II of Spain