Always Look on the Bright Side of Life

I had intended doing a ‘Reasons to be Cheerful’ post on this particular day – the 20th of January 2017 – but in all honesty it was turning out to be quite a slim post. So I decided that in these interesting, not to say crazy times we are living in, Monty Python’s Always Look on the Bright Side of Life fitted the bill better.

Fingers crossed!

The Willow Cabin by Pamela Frankau

The Willow Cabin cover

The Willow Cabin by Pamela Frankau was published in 1949, my copy is a 1951 reprint. This is the first book that I’ve read by the author and I’ll definitely be seeking out more of her books.

The Willow Cabin covers the years from 1936 to 1948 and the settings are various but mainly London and America.

Caroline is a 22 year old aspiring actress, in fact she’s really talented at it, but she’s also rather immature. Her relationship with her mother and step-father is fraught and when she falls for Michael a well-known surgeon who is much older than her she moves out of the family home into an hotel.

Michael is unable to get a divorce from his wife (hmmm) but that doesn’t put Caroline off and when war breaks out she throws up her acting career to follow Michael around, they’ve both joined the army.

For most of the book Mercedes, Michael’s Anglo-American wife is absent, apparently in France, possibly helping the resistance or even dead. But in the last third of the book the war is over and Caroline goes to America where Mercedes has pitched up. Mercedes had been very well off before the war but she has used the last of her money to buy a farm in America and to build a small house for a family of German refugees who are supposedly her employees along with a French family of refugees.

The two families can’t get along and have absolutely no sense of gratitude for everything that has been done for them. I’m sure that that was Frankau’s way of pointing out how the UK had been bankrupted by a war not of its making and had got nothing out of it but a debt that took generations to pay off and absolutely no thanks from the rest of Europe for all that had been done for them and the sacrifices made.

The atmosphere of wartime London in particular is very well portrayed I think, of course the book was written not long after the end of the war.

The title of the book was taken from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and there seems to be some confusion on the internet as to what it means. However I have always understood that willow was worn by women whose loved ones were away from home – at war or at sea or whatever. It was a way of telling people (men) that they weren’t really on their own, they were waiting for the return of their lover.

All through reading this book I had the 1970s song All Around My Hat by Steeleye Span going around in my head, if you don’t know the song you might be interested in listening to it now.

I believe that Virago have reprinted this book as a modern classic so I’m counting this one towards my Classic Club Challenge, I’m not far off reaching 50 now.

Art from the Second World War

 Art from the Second World War cover

Art from the Second World War is one of the books that I got for Christmas. It was published by the Imperial War Museum and it’s their collection of artworks.

I’m interested in the war although mainly from the social home front aspect, and many of the artworks depicted in this book are of war workers and even of people queuing outside a fishmongers and poulterers.

It’s a lovely book although some of the images are quite disturbing – such as the one of bodies in Belsen. I prefer to concentrate on the more domestic images.

It contains works by Paul Nash, Graham Sutherland, Henry Moore, Mervyn Peake ( I didn’t even know he painted), Laura Knight, Eric Ravilious and many more.

The image below was painted by Evelyn Dunbar.

Evelyn Dunbar

And the one below by Laura Knight (Dame) is of a balloon team.

A Balloon team Laura Knight

Another Trip to Edinburgh

Last week we decided to have another jaunt over to Edinburgh, mainly to visit the J.M.W. Turner watercolour exhibition which is on every January and then disappears for the rest of the year.

So we made our way along Princes Street to The National Gallery where we met up with a couple of family members who had never seen the watercolours. You can have a look at the collection and watch a wee video here. It’s a bit of an annual pilgrimage for us, but this time it was busier than usual, it serves us right for going on a Saturday!

After that it was time for lunch so we crossed Princes Street and went up South Saint David Street (I think – I’m not good with Edinburgh’s geography), turned left into George Street to have lunch at The Dome. It’s a fabulously ornate building in Edinburgh’s New Town (which of course is quite old by now, Georgian in fact.)

The Dome

The Dome was indeed originally a bank, it definitely has that feel about it, very opulent, all of our poshest buildings seem to have been built by banks – nothing changes does it?

The Dome

The Dome

You can see more images of The Dome here.

After that we went back up to Princes Street, really so that we could sign up to become ‘friends’ of The National Galleries.
Princes Street

Princes Street

Then we walked through the Christmas market, I thought it would have been cleared away by now but it’s still hanging on. It is really incongruous to see these fairground rides sitting cheek by jowl with Sir Walter Scott’s monument. I must say that they do get a great view of it from those swing seats but you won’t catch me up there!

Princes Street Gardens Christmas 7

Guardian Review links

If you’re interested in the Brontes and Anne in particular you might find this article interesting. It’s a review of a book called Take Courage: Anne Bronte and the Art of Life by Samantha Ellis.

As a teenager I went on a Thomas Hardy binge and read most of his books, so I was interested in reading a review by Dinah Birch of Thomas Hardy: Half a Londoner by Mark Ford.

We’re approaching the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death and the historian Lucy Worsley writes here about why such a well loved author remains so mysterious.

Last but not least Susanna Rustin looks at the career of Winifred Holtby here.

The Gazebo by Patricia Wentworth

The Gazebo cover

The Gazebo by Patricia Wentworth was first published in 1958 and my copy was published that year and even has the dust jacket – what a find!

I really enjoyed this one although the murder does take quite a while to take place. Althea Graham is a woman in her mid twenties and she is at her ghastly mother’s beck and call all day every day. Her mother is supremely self-centred and is determined to keep her daughter at home running around after her mother who has a ‘heart attack’ every time it looks like she might not get her way about something.

Five years previously Althea had been all set to get married but her mother had put a stop to it. Now her ex-fiance is back, but it looks like life is never going to be easy for them, with murder and mystery blighting their future.

Luckily Althea is able to contact Miss Silver, they are connected loosely through an old friend. She’s the equivalent of the cavalry riding to your aid! AND she does it all whilst knitting a pink vest for a baby girl.

The Forth Bridges – floodlit

Forth Bridge

Back to our October 2016 cruise and I woke up in the dark, realising that our ship Black Watch must have entered the Firth of Forth because there was almost no movement at all and very little engine noise.

Forth Bridge

I shot out of bed and luckily managed to locate the camera in the dark, Jack was still out for the count. The two photos above are of the Forth Bridge which is for trains only. It’s the one on my header.

I was just in time to take these photos of the bridges as we went under them, I took lots but most of them didn’t come out.

These ones are quite atmospheric though, certainly if you know what you’re looking at anyway.

The new road bridge is still under construction, but it’s not far off being finished.

new bridge the Queensferry Crossing

new bridge

If you want to see more photos under construction have a look here.

American Jigsaw Puzzle


We’ve just completed our second jigsaw puzzle of the winter. It’s one that Peggy brought over from TN when she visited us last summer. It’s a Charles Wysocki puzzle called Whaler’s Bay, I think that naive (folksy) American style is lovely.

This is the second Wysocki puzzle that we’ve done, I must admit I found the first one to be more difficult than this one, maybe I’m just getting used to the different styles now. There is quite a difference between US and UK puzzles, going by these ones anyway. We managed to do it over two days and a Brit one normally will take the best part of a week with the same number of pieces – 1,000.

I think I’ll be starting another puzzle soon – going by the weather forecast it looks like we’ll be staying at home over the next few days, it’s going to be freezing here!

My Read Scotland 2017 Book List

Below is a list of the first ten books that I intend to read for the Read Scotland 2017 Challenge. I intend to read at least 35 books for this challenge, and as you can see I’m going to be having something of a J.I.M. Stewart binge. I loved reading three of those books way back in the 1970s when they came out, but I never did get around to finishing the series, so I’m starting from the beginning again, hoping that I’ll enjoy them as much. He is of course better known as the crime writer Michael Innes.

I think a read-a-long of R.L.S’s The Black Arrow is on the cards at some time during the year.

I want to get back to Ian Rankin’s Rebus series, I’m way behind with it and I believe that it’s Dead Souls that is next on the reading list for me.

Helen at She Reads Novels recently enjoyed reading Scott’s Redgauntlet, and as I have a copy of it I decided to bump it up my Sir Walter Scott reading queue.

Joan at Planet Joan recently loved reading Mary Stewart’s Airs Above the Ground and it’s one of the few that I still have to read, so I’m really looking forward to that.

I’ve been avoiding Val McDermid’s books as I’ve been told they are quite gory but I’ve decided to pluck up courage and start with her first book Report for Murder.

1. Airs Above the Ground by Mary Stewart
2. The Gaudy by J.I.M. Stewart
3. Young Patullo by J.I.M. Stewart
4. Memorial Service by J.I.M. Stewart
5. The Madonna of the Astrolabe by J.I.M. Stewart
6. Full Term by J.I.M. Stewart
7. Report for Murder by Val McDermid
8. Dead Souls by Ian Rankin
9. The Black Arrow by R.L. Stevenson
10. Redgauntlet by Sir Walter Scott

Have you read any of these books and are there any Scottish books that you would recommend reading?

People at Play by Elizabeth Berridge

People at Play cover

When Endeavour Press asked me if I would like to be sent an ebook of People at Play by Elizabeth Berridge I had to google her as I had never heard of her before. Anyway, I decided to accept the book offer as going by her Guardian obituary it seemed like she was a good writer.

To begin with I was a bit unsure because the main character Stani seemed to dislike redheads, that’s not something that I’m going to find reasonable, but it turned out that he was a bit of a weird chap.

The setting is mainly London in the 1960s when World War 2 still seemed quite recent and there were people living there who had been wartime refugees of various nationalities and still didn’t seem to be fitting in, especially amongst themselves.

Stani has a room in the house that he and his mother had lived in when they first got to Britain and he’s now a sort of caretaker, letting out the other rooms to various types. The house is owned by Mrs Bannister and she has decamped to a large old house not too far away in the suburbs near Richmond, it feels like the country to her. Just after the war her husband had decided that he wanted his freedom and he gave her the large house on condition that she looked after his two rather dotty elderly cousins.

Mrs Bannister realises that it is his way of dumping all his responsibilities on her, but she decides to take it all on and change the house into a home for the elderly. There are a lot of quirky characters, young and old, and nothing is quite as it seems to be.

I enjoyed this book and will look out for more of Elizabeth Berridge’s books. My thanks go to Endeavour Press for sending me this ebook.