The Glorious Thing by Christine Orr

The Glorious Thing cover

The Glorious Thing by Christine Orr was first published in 1919 but was re-publishd by Merchiston Publishing in 2013. I must admit that I had never even heard of Christine Orr until I visited the Writers Museum in Edinburgh earlier this year. The museum is mainly dedicated to R.L. Stevenson, Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott but there are some mentions of other Scottish authors such as Muriel Spark and Christine Orr, there is a small display case featuring some of her books. I’m quite ashamed that I had never heard of her, she apparently wrote 18 novels, was also a poet, theatre director, became head of the BBC’s Children’s Hour in 1936 and was instrumental in founding the Edinburgh Festival. Sadly it looks like this book is the only one which has been reprinted so I don’t think it will be very easy to collect the other 17 novels. Although The Glorious Thing is described as being a war novel, it’s really mainly from the Home Front within an Edinburgh family.

David Grant is back home in Castlerig not far from Edinburgh. He had spent two years in the trenches before he received a wound to his spine which led to a time in hospital that he found even more horrific than life in the trenches. But he isn’t happy, he feels weak, has trouble walking, his nerves are shattered and he feels depressed despite the fact that there’s a job waiting for him as a junior partner in his uncle’s law firm, and he has no money worries.

While visiting an art gallery with his sister Minnie, David’s attention is drawn to a young untidy woman, it’s her laugh that attracts him and later on he meets up with her and her large family of sisters. They are all living with their uncle as their parents are dead and I had to feel sorry for the man as the sisters are a fairly argumentative lot.

This is a very good read which focuses on the changing roles of women, politics, social history, atheism (very unusual for this time I think), religion and of course romance with quite a bit of humour too. There are some darling children – was there some sort of unwritten rule that Scottish female writers of the time had to conjure up cuties?

I really hope that in the future some more of Christine Orr’s books will be published. This one was published by Edinburgh Napier University and the proceeds supported Poppyscotland and Scottish Veterans Residences.

The back blurb says: ‘This book is a revealing snapshot of ordinary Edinburgh lives during an extraordinary time.’

Helsinki – via Jack @ A Son of the Rock

It was May last year – the glory days when we could wander – when we were on a Baltic cruise, how lucky were we that it wasn’t this May! Anyway I am way behind with doing blogposts about the various places we visited. Jack has been far more methodical so if you want to see what our visit to Helsinki looked like have a look here.

My abiding memory of the city is the long walk out to the Sibelius monument and the menu at a posh restaurant in a small park which was charging a lot of money for carrot foam. Truly!

Largo’s Untold Stories by Leonard Low

Largo

Largo’s Untold Stories by Leonard Low is an interesting read. The author doesn’t stick rigidly to writing about the little coastal village of Largo in east Fife. I was very interested to read that there had been a big battle between the Romans and the Pictish tribes at the base of the Lomond Hills in Fife not far from where I live. If you live in the area or you intend to visit the ‘East Neuk’ it would be a good idea to read a book like this first.

Mind you given that some of the history features ‘witch’ burning and torturing I must admit that walking along Largo beach won’t ever be quite the same for me as it was the scene of some horrific acts carried out by jealous and crazed villagers.

He also writes about the real Robinson Crusoe (Alexander Selkirk) who came from Largo and about starvation and cannibalism on an expedition in search of the North West Passage which had links to the area.

Lots of stone cist burials have been found locally dating from the 420s AD and some earlier. The first one found was a woman who had been buried in a sitting position. Over the years jewellery has been found when major works have been taking place, such as the building of the railway line when two gold torques were discovered. The Pictish tribes buried their valuables before going to war.

Archaeologically, historically and geologically it’s a very interesting place.

If you are interested in seeing what the area looks like have a look at some images here.

20 Books of Summer

20 books of summer

I’ve decided to join in with 20 Books of Summer this time around. It’s hosted by Cathy at 746 Books. This should be very easy for me to complete as I’ll definitely be reading at least that many books between June the 1st and September the 1st.

Click on the picture to enlarge it.

Pile of Books

1. North from Rome by Helen MacInnes
2. The Road Home by Rose Tremain
3. My Friend Flora by Jane Duncan
4. Winter Holiday by Arthur Ransome
5. The Citadel by A.J. Cronin
6. The House of Doctor Dee by Peter Ackroyd
7. The Runaway by Elizabeth Anna Hart
8. Madame Solario by Gladys Huntingdon
9. Autumn Quail by Naguib Mahfouz
10. Peter Pan in Scarlet by Geraldine McCaughrean
11. An Old-Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott
12. The Berry Scene by Dornford Yates
13. The Flight of the Heron by D.K. Broster
14. Wolf Among Wolves by Hans Fallada
15. The Dark Wood Wandering by Hella S. Haasse
16. The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar
17. Call for the Dead by John le Carre
18. A Murder of Quality by John le Carre
19. The House in Norham Gardens by Penelope Lively
20. Snow by Orhan Pamuk

I think this is a fairly good mixture of espionage, historial fiction, children’s classics, Scottish authors, books in translation – and various others. Having this list should mean that I don’t have too hard a time deciding which book to read next, with just these 20 to choose from. I hope to dip into some non-fiction too but that will just depend on my mood at the time.

Have you read any of these ones?

Classics Club Spin # 23 – Summer Half by Angela Thirkell

Angela Thirkell omnibus

I feel it’s a bit of a cheat putting Angela Thirkell’s Summer Half on my Classics Club list as it doesn’t really fit in with my idea of a classic but I’m trying to work my way through the books I have in my house and I don’t have many classics unread. Having said that – this is a re-read for me as I read Thirkell’s books just as I managed to get a hold of them, and now I’ m reading them again, in the correct order. Summer Half was first published in 1937.

Colin Keith’s father expects him to continue with his law studies and go on to be a barrister, but Colin feels bad about living off his parents, he feels it’s time to earn some money so he applies for a teaching post at the prep school at Southbridge. He’s nervous about the boys though, would he be able to cope with them? When he’s successful he’s in two minds about it as he really does enjoy his law studies.

The other teachers are a friendly set though and Colin settles down. Philip Winter is another young teacher there and he has the misfortune to be engaged to Rose Birkett, the headmaster’s daughter. Rose is beautiful to look at but she’s an intensely annoying dimwit with a tiny vocabulary. Philip is her third or maybe fourth fiance- and she’s only 18. The older boys in the school are incensed at the way Rose treats Philip and young Tony Morland and Eric Swan particularly do their best to protect him from her constant flirting with any other handy males.

As the setting is mainly the school there’s a lot of fun with the boys, particularly Hacker who is their classics scholar and is a bit of a nerdy character. He has a pet chameleon and in Hacker’s attempts to look after his pet he inadvertently causes mayhem in the school, but such fun!

“Mr Carter pointed out that the classics appeared to be no preparation for life, in that they did not, so far as he could see, even train a boy to think.”

I had to laugh when I read the line above as it’s so true. You just have to think of Boris Johnson who allegedly reads ancient Greek, but can barely string a sentence together in English.

This one was perfect light reading for Covid-19 times.

Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times

Despite still being in lockdown, or maybe because of it, the time is going so fast and already it’s time for another Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times which is hosted by Judith Reader in the Wilderness.

Click on the photo to enlarge it.

Top Bookshelf

When we moved house and I grabbed a spare bedroom as a room for some of my books I really thought that I would be able to have them all in alphabetical order but that hasn’t happened. I now realise that I only have some of my Rumer Godden books on these shelves, others are downstairs.

The Talisman Ringcover
The Scent of Water cover

Kingmaker Divided Souls cover

I think I’ve read most of the Georgette Heyer books, but I haven’t read The Talisman Ring yet. I might read that one next as I’ve just finished a Virago book. I have all of Heyer’s crime/mystery books, but they are all in a crime fiction bookcase elsewhere.

Kingmaker Divided Souls by Toby Clements was a gift from a friend who loved reading it, but didn’t want to hold on to it. It’s another Wars of the Roses book.

I totally forgot that I had this copy of The Scent of the Water by Elizabeth Goudge, another possibilty for my next read. I love the rather twee cover.

I’ve been using this meme to find forgotten books on my shelves, I used to keep unread books in piles on floors, but that got too untidy as inevitably they collapsed from time to time causing even more mess. But it did mean that I could see at a glance what was still in my TBR book queues. Have you read any of these books?

Elizabeth, Captive Princess by Margaret Irwin

Elizabeth, Captive Princess cover

Elizabeth, Captive Princess by Margaret Irwin was first published in 1948 and it’s the second book in the author’s Queen Elizabeth I trilogy. I really enjoyed the first book Young Bess and although I didn’t like this one quite as much, I’ll definitely be reading the third book Elizabeth and the Prince of Spain.

The book begins at Hatfield House in Hertfordshire where the Lady Elizabeth is living. A messenger had arrived from Duke Dudley an hour or so ago and everyone had guessed why he was there. The young and ailing King Edward must have died so Elizabeth must ride to London, but the messenger has apparently come with a plea from Edward for his sister Elizabeth to visit him. At first Elizabeth is keen to go, but then she thinks better of it. Both Elizabeth and her elder half-sister have been proclaimed to be illegitimate by their father Henry VIII which leads to the possibility of Lady Jane Grey being next in line to the throne.

As Duke Dudley has recently married his son Guildford off to Lady Jane Grey Elizabeth smells a rat. If she goes to London will she end up being taken to the Tower, never to be seen again like the two young princes in the past? Unknown to Elizabeth her half-sister Mary is having much the same suspicion, but as the elder of the two women she begins to travel around to rally support for her claim to the throne.

This is possibly one of the saddest eras in English history with the young Lady Jane being used and abused by her own parents, something she had grown used to over the years, but she could never have expected them to go to the lengths that they did to gain power through her.

I felt that Mary was given quite an easy time of it in this book as she really became a monster when she did attain the throne and you don’t get much idea of her cruelty and nastiness – all in the name of the Roman Catholic faith. Maybe that will be spelled out in the next volume.

The nursery rhyme
Mary, Mary quite contrary
How does your garden grow
With silver bells and cockle shells
And pretty maids all in a row

is thought by some to be written about Bloody Mary as she came to be known, due to her enthusiasm for executing non Catholics, usually having them burnt at the stake. The silver bells being part of the mass and cockle shells standing for martyrdom – I think. But others say that they were instruments of torture, something else that Mary was keen on.

Covid-19 days

From tomorrow we in Scotland we will be able to meet up with one other household, outside and socially distanced – a maximum of eight people. That seems a bit excessive to me, I think it’s the eight people bit that scares me a wee bit. However I don’t think we’ll have to cope with that many visitors as our family members don’t live locally, and as we’ve been asked not to travel far – mainly because we shouldn’t be going into the house to use the loo – I think it’ll be quite some time before we are meeting up with our immediate family.

Speaking of loos – we had a bit of a domestic disaster about a month ago. While settling down to drink our 9 pm coffee and preparing to settle down to watch something on TV I discovered a puddle of water on the hall floor, while looking at it with puzzlement a drip splashed into it. I dreaded looking up at the ceiling, but it had to be done and it was even worse than I had feared. There were lots of bubbles in the plaster and in two places water had broken through it, it was even seeping down the walls. At first we couldn’t even figure out where the water was coming from but I tracked it down to the en suite shower room toilet cistern. It’s one of those supposedly water conserving push button efforts that must have been designed by an idiot as they have two holes in the cistern, accidents waiting to happen. The water was dripping straight down a pipe so showing no trace in the actual shower room. This is the second time one of them has malfunctioned here resulting in a soaked ceiling below. We couldn’t get a plumber into the house due to the lockdown and there was not enough space to fit a spanner in to fix it ourselves. After many views of You Tube videos and several trips to tool centres (wearing masks) and a DIY store which thankfully had just re-opened Jack managed to fix it. It took him about three weeks, I think he was determined it wasn’t going to beat him. I’m hoping we can fix the ceiling ourselves too, I’m quite good at that sort of thing.

We locked down a wee bit before we were told to by Nicola Sturgeon, it just seemed the sensible thing to do and after eleven weeks or so I’m well used to it, I’m amazed at how quickly the time has gone and also appalled that I don’t seem to be getting on with many of the things that have been getting put off for ages, they’re still being put off. I seem to be brilliant at dodging unappealing tasks! I have been reading a lot, especially in the early days of the lockdown, now gardening has taken over. Our weather has been scorching over the last few days and we haven’t had any rain to speak of for ages, the ground is like concrete. Actually our weather is a bit of a worry as it’s still only May and we’ve already had temperatures of 25 centigrade / 77 Fahrenheit. I think that’s a record for May, it’s definitely global warming.

Our jigsaw season is over I think. If I can get my hands on some fence paint I’ll be doing that instead, in common with half the country. I’m just so thankful that we have a garden to spend time in. When I think of some of the places we’ve lived in over the nearly 44 years we’ve been married (I know, I can hardly believe it) lockdown would have been absolutely hell in some of our early homes as they weren’t places we enjoyed living in, but were all we could afford at the time. I recall the first house we bought which was in the south of England which only had a plasterboard wall between us and the house next door, apparently absolutely legal in England! In those circumstances I might have been close to murder by now.

The only occasional strange thing that I have been experiencing is flashes of places coming into my mind when I least expect it, like picture postcards of places that I love visiting. They’re all rural scenic places, no shops involved. Hills, beaches, stone bridges, castles and riverbanks, but I’m in no great rush to visit any of them soon, just in case hundreds of other people are having the same idea. I have compiled a little list of new places that I want to visit – if life ever does get back to what we regarded as normal. What about you? Are you raring to go out and about or will you take it easy and be safe rather than sorry?

The photos of packed beaches in England horrified me – what are they thinking of?!

beach

The Little Town Where Time Stood Still by Bohumil Hrabal

 The Little Town Where Time Stood Still cover

The Little Town Where Time Stood Still by Bohumil Hrabal was first published in Britain in 1993. It consists of two novellas which are loosely linked with some of the same characters. The setting is Bohemia, some time in the 1930s. The first one is called Cutting it Short and it’s narrated by Anna, a young woman who is married to Francin who is the manager of the local brewery. On the surface they aren’t very well matched as Francin is very serious and Anna is fun-loving, she is too friendly with their servants according to Francin and often behaves badly, not as the wife of a manager should behave. But Francin is very proud of Anna’s long golden hair. When she is setting off anywhere on her bicycle he holds it up and runs alongside her until she is going fast enough for it to flow out in the wind, otherwise it’s in danger of getting tangled in her bike.

When Pepin, Francin’s brother arrives Anna is happy that at last she will meet her husband’s brother. Pepin is a bit of a handful, he has quite a problem with alcohol and whenever he has money he can’t get rid of it fast enough, spending it on booze and the local ‘ladies of the night’. For some reason Pepin speaks with a Scottish accent, presumably the author wrote the character with a strong local accent and the translator, who grew up in Edinburgh decided to make the translation into Scots.

As ever with translated work I’m sure I’m missing things. Later in the story lots of things are being cut shorter by ten inches and Anna decides to have her hair cut too. Francin isn’t happy about that but almost worse is everyone else in the village is incensed by the loss of her golden hair too.

Strangely I also experienced this when as a 13 year old I decided to have my long apparently ‘golden’ hair cut too. I got my hair cut in the page boy style, it was all the rage in 1972. Nobody said anything to me about it, but there were several to my mind elderly bachelors in the neighbourhood who had never managed to cut their mummys’ apron strings, and they were all complaining to their mothers that I had cut my hair – and the mothers complained to my mother. That made me mad!

The second novella is The Little Town Where Time Stood Still, also published in Britain in 1993 but originally published in 1973. The schoolboy son of Francin and Anna is in awe of the men that he sees working on the river barges that he sees on his way home from school. He wants a tattoo like they have, one of a small boat is what he hankers after. The tattooist agrees to give him one on his chest but when he gets home he sees that he has been given a tattoo of a naked mermaid. He thinks his father will go mad when he sees it but while Francin is staring at the mermaid transfixed his attention is grabbed by ‘Uncle’ Pepin who is having one of his mad rants. He had come to stay with them for a fortnight and eight years later he was still there!

By now it’s WW2 but the war doesn’t seem to have much of an effect on the small town. Life goes on much the same. Francin spends his spare time taking his motorbike’s engine apart and getting the locals to help him do it, an experience that none of them are ever going to repeat.

With the end of the war comes Communism. As Francin was the brewery manager he loses his job as managers aren’t proper workers. Despite the fact that he was popular with the workforce they can’t help him.

I enjoyed these novellas which feature quirky characters and humour.

The blurb on the back says: ‘Hrabal combines good humour and hilarity with tenderness and a tragic sense of his country’s history.’ OBSERVER

My garden in Fife, Scotland

The yellow rose ‘Golden Showers’ at my front door has started to bloom again. I had intended liberating it from the large tub it lives in, hoping that it might flower for a longer time if it is in the earth, but never got around to it, also I have no idea where I could shoehorn it in!

Rose , Golden Showers, my garden

Golden Showers Rose, my garden

The video is of a bit of my back garden. It’s very short and I did it mainly to capture some of the birdsong that fills the air most of the time.

Bird song video, my garden

I’m not great at recognising birdsong, I’m a bit better at bird spotting, but one day late last week I was sitting reading in the sun room when something brown flew past accompanied by a lot of screeching from the ever present sparrows. When I looked out the window I saw that some sort of raptor was sitting on the grass, it was Jack that realised that it had something in its claws. I suppose we now have one fewer sparrow around the place, slightly upsetting but I tell myself that the kestrel (?) has to eat too. This bird was like a much smaller version of a female sparrowhawk, I suppose it may have been a very young one, but I suspect it was a kestrel – whatever – we hadn’t seen one in the garden before.

Hawk , Kestrel