a flat place by Noreen Masud

a flat place by Noreen Masud was published in 2023 and it has been shortlisted for several prizes. It’s described as a memoir and Masud writes about her love of flat places, something which she first realised when she was being driven to school in Pakistan every morning by her mother. She longed for her first sight of a flat expanse of land which they passed by, it was something that her sisters didn’t even notice.

Later when family problems led her Scottish mother to leave Pakistan and take her daughters to live in Fife, where she had grown up, Masud went on to visit other flatlands such as Ely in Cambridgeshire, Orford Ness in Suffolk, Morecambe Bay, Newcastle Moor and Orkney, and here she writes of her experiences. Her love of stones, particularly hag stones, is something that I can understand, but where scenery is concerned I’m not so keen on flat vistas. In fact my definition of a good High Street is one where I can stand in it and look up and see soft, rolling green hills, which for me are comforting and enveloping. I remember reading somewhere years ago that the wide skies and flat scenery of Norfolk were thought to contribute to the higher than usual suicide rates in the county!

Masud can’t get away from her childhood traumas, she had grown up cloistered in one room with her mother and three sisters, except for when she went to school. She was in a strange position of not being part of the community that she is growing up in, not even being able to speak Urdu very fluently. Her father was a doctor and he wanted his daughters to grow up speaking English with no hint of a Pakistani accent.

Masud is still haunted by her upbringing, she was lucky in that her father regarded his four daughters as being his sons, and so was keen on them having a good education, but on the other hand he was still wedded to the more traditional morals of his own upbringing. It seems to have been a bit of a toxic mixture. In the end he cared more about what the neighbours/extended family thought than about his own family, luckily for the author and her mother.

I must admit that I learned quite a few things while reading this one, it’s so much more than a memoir. I’m sure it will win more prizes. I’m also sure that I read about this book on a blog, but of course I can’t remember whose it was. Thank you anyway.

There’s one flat land that I visited which I feel Noreen Masud would relish. When we visited Lindisfarne in Northumberland some years ago I watched several pilgrims walking across the the tidal mudflats to the Holy Island and the ruins of the monastery. Although not in the least bit religious I did think that it looked like it might be a good experience – if messy.

Noreen Masud is now a lecturer in 20th century literature at the University of Bristol.

Hindeloopen, Netherlands

Hindeloopen is another one of the eleven ‘cities’ of Friesland, in north east Netherlands. I’ve always fancied being able to moor a small boat by my house so that I could just pootle about on a river, you can actually do that in the Netherlands, well their canals look just like rivers.

Dutch house, Hindeloopen, canal

 

Hindeloopen ,Small Canal, Netherlands

How scenic is the photo below, it almost looked like something from a children’s story book.

Hindeloopen, Bridge, Netherlands

There are plenty of bridges and locks.

Hindeloopen Locks, Netherlands, Friesland

But Hindeloopen is very popular with sailors. I thought it would be similar to the coastal villages in Fife, but it was very different. There wasn’t much in the way of shops at all, just eateries, and there were millions of midges. You might think that coming from Scotland I would be well used to midges but I had never see anything like it, and it was a really windy day. I would hate to be there on a still day – if they have them.

Hindeloopen Harbour , Friesland, Netherlands

There were lots more yachts than can be seen in the photos.

Hindeloopen Harbour , Friesland, Netherlands

Beyond the harbour is the IJsselmeer. This used to be the Zuiderzee but in 1932 they constructed a dyke to close it off from the open sea, and now it is a freshwater lake.

IJselmeer , Hindeloopen, Netherlands

It is very different from the North Sea in coastal Fife.

Making It Up by Penelope Lively – 20 Books of Summer 2024

Making It Up by Penelope Lively was first published in 2005. It’s one of my 20 Books of Summer.  This book is an exercise in ‘whatiffery’ something which we all indulge in from time to time I’m sure. What would have happened if I had taken another path in life, all those decisions that we take – or don’t take. It’s a really good read.

The blurb on the back says: Taking moments from her own life and asking ‘what if?’, Penelope Lively constructs fictions about possibilities and alternative destinies.

As you would expect she starts off with a story about her childhood, Mozambique Channel. Born in Egypt, she was caught up in WW2, when it looked like the Germans were going to be heading for Cairo, the civilians that could get on ships did so and sailed for South Africa, but the journey was a dangerous one.

In Imjin River the what if is about her husband who had been due to be sent to Korea as war had broken out there while he was doing his National Service.

Transatlantic is the one which spoke to me most I think as it is about leaving your own country to live elsewhere, and how that impacts on your life and experiences.

Other stories have the titles  – The Albert Hall, Comet, Number Twelve Sheep Street, The Temple of Mithras and Penelope.

These ‘what ifs’ are entertaining, but I found the explanations and the backgrounds which Lively has written for each one to be even more interesting.

 

 

Dokkum, Friesland

When we were in the Netherlands recently we visited Dokkum which is a fortified town in the north-east municipality of Noardeast-Fryslan in the province of Friesland. It’s a very scenic town.

Dokkum Canal + Brewery , Netherlands

Of course there are canals all over the Netherlands, but Dokkum is at the end of the road so to speak. During really cold winters when the canals freeze over enough they have ice skating races on the canals in eleven towns in Friesland, and this is the last one.

Dokkum Canal, Friesland, Netherlands

Dokkum Bridges ,Canal, Netherlands

 

Canal Boats, Dokkum, Friesland, Netherlands

Small canals lead into a bigger one. In some places people have their boat moored in front of their house, much better than a car!

Dokkum, Small Canal, Friesland

I think this a laburnum tree by the side of the canal in the photo below although it’s difficult to say as the flowers weren’t properly open yet.

Dokkum Canal , Laburnum Tree

This is a lovely town, well worth visiting if you are in the vicinity, but we were there on a Monday and not all of the shops were open, this is quite common in Friesland.

 

 

Dissolution by C.J. Sansom – 20 Books of Summer 2024

Dissolution by C.J. Sansom was first published in 2003 and it’s the first book that I’ve read by the author, in fact it was only when I read his Guardian obituary when he died in April that I realised that I had almost certainly missed out on some really good reads. I think I did borrow one of his Shardlake books from the library before, but realised that it was part of a series, but never did get around to getting the first one, until now. I really enjoyed it.

The setting is England in 1537. It’s the year after Anne Boleyn’s execution and Henry VIII is beginning to dismantle the large network of monasteries that have managed to accumulate huge riches over the years. Henry is determined to strip them of their wealth and Thomas Cromwell has sent a young man to St Donatus Monastery to investigate their finances, but he is found dead there, he has been beheaded in the kitchen, and Cromwell sends Matthew Shardlake and his young apprentice to investigate the murder.

When they start to question the monks they soon realise that they are very far from being holy men, or even good men, the place is awash with sin, but which of them is a murderer?

This is an atmospheric read with a long snowstorm adding to the sense of menace as the monastery turns into a prison for Shardlake and his apprentice, trapped with  a murderer on the loose.

This was another of my 20 Books of Summer.

 

Six in Six – 2024 Edition

 

Jo at The Book Jotter is hosting Six in Six again and I’ve decided to take part,  it’s an enjoyable look back at what I’ve been reading over the first six months of the year. Joanne always suggests lots of possibilities of categories and I’m taking advantage of most of her suggestion.

Six authors new to me:

Rachel Ferguson  – A Footman for the Peacock

The Life and Death of Harriett Frean by May Sinclair

Charles Spencer – Killers of the King

Lin Anderson  – The Wild Coast

Flora Fraser – Pretty Young Rebel

Forest Silver by E.M. Ward

 

Six books that took me by the hand and led me into the past:

The Revolt of the Eaglets by Jean Plaidy

Sword at Sunset by Rosemary Sutcliff

The Winter List by S.G. MacLean

Across the Barricades by Joan Lingard

The Secrets of Blythswood Square by Sara Sheridan

A Footman for the Peacock by Rachel Ferguson

 

Six books from the non fiction shelf:

Notes from Walnut Tree Farm by Roger Deakin

Holloway by Robert Macfarlane

Pretty Young Rebel by Flora Fraser

The Salt Path by Raynor Winn

Landmarks by Robert Macfarlane

Women and Power by Mary Beard

 

 

Six books by Scottish authors:

The Redemption of Alexander Seaton by Shona MacLean

Green Willow’s Secret by Eileen Dunlop

The Fall of Kelvin Walker by Alasdair Gray

The Tenement by Iain Crichton Smith

Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart

Squeaky Clean by Callum McSorley

 

Six vintage crime books:

Uncle Paul by Celia Fremlin

Suddenly at His Residence by Christianna Brand

Green for Dander by Christianna Brand

Someone from the Past by Margot Bennet

Somebody at the Door by Raymond Postgate

Post After Post Mortem by E.C.R. Lorac

 

Six book titles containing female names:

Consider the Lily by Elizabeth Buchan

Harriet Said by Beryl Bainbridge

Madame Claire by Susan Ertz

Eustacia at the Chalet School by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer

Dimsie Grows Up by Dorita Fairlie Bruce

The Life and Death of Harriet Frean

Thank you Jo for hosting this, it’s always useful to have a look back.  I’ve been reading a lot of historical fiction over the past six months, more than usual I think. For the rest of 2024 I plan to mix things up a bit more, but reading plans often ‘gang agley’  – as we all know!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Footman for the Peacock by Rachel Ferguson

A Footman for the Peacock by Rachel Ferguson was originally published in 1940, but was reprinted by Dean Street Press in 2016. It’s A Furrowed Middlebrow Book.

Sir Edmund Roundelay and his extended family, including his three elderly unmarried sisters, live in a stately pile called Delaye. It’s the beginning of World War 2 and everyone is expected to ‘do their bit’ which for the Roundelays means housing a large number of children and their teachers in the unused rooms of the house.  Lady Evelyn Roundelay is having a tough enough time coping with the running of the house as it is, the rules will have to be got around. For the first time the Roundelays are having to deal with people who have been given unexpected status due to their war work, it’s a bit of a knock to their sense of entitlement, but not for long.

In the past the Roundelays had been harsh employers, literally running their young footmen to death so that they could run ahead of their carriage to clear the way for it as they drove through villages, but there are still members of staff who are descendants of past servants working in the household, there hasn’t been much in the way of social movement.

This was an enjoyable read, the blurb on the back says that it was “controversial when first published in the early days of World War II, due to its treatment of a loathsome upper-crust family dodging wartime responsibility. It can now be enjoyed as a scathing satire of class abuses, a comic masterpiece falling somewhere between Barbara Pym and Monty Python.”

It was one of my 20 Books of Summer reads.

The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory – 20 Books of Summer 2024

The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory is one of my 20 Books of Summer. It was first published in 2008. I had sworn that I wasn’t going to read any more books about Mary, Queen of Scots for quite a long time – if ever – or any more books by Philippa Gregory for that matter as I think she has some unusual theories on historical facts, but heigh-ho. It was the fact that this one features Bess of Hardwick which drew me in, she was surely one of the most fascinating women of the Tudor period.

The date is 1568 and Bess is on her fourth husband, the Earl of Shrewsbury, she has worked her way up from nothing to the aristocracy, with her three previous husbands leaving everything to her, she’s a very wealthy woman, but obviously wanted status too.

Unfortunately Queen Elizabeth I is looking for a place to lodge Mary, Queen of Scots and she decides to use Bess and her husband as suitable jailors. Queen Mary has an enormous retinue which she refuses to whittle down and for her everything must be of the best. Queen Elizabeth is determined not to pay any money over to the Shrewsburys and the whole of the cost of keeping Mary and her many hangers-on and followers in the lap of luxury causes tension within the marriage. Bess sees her fortune diminish by the week and it looks like she’ll even lose her beloved Chatsworth to pay the debts, she has had to put the building of Chatsworth on hold over the years of Mary’s captivity but even worse than that, William Cecil, Elizabeth’s spymaster is trying to link Shrewsbury, and possibly even Bess, with Catholic plots to rescue Mary from captivity. They might end up being executed.

Bess realises that like many men her husband has been the target of one of Mary’s charm offensives, and the fool has completely fallen for Mary.

I enjoyed this one although I was somewhat puzzled when on page 9 Mary describes Elizabeth as ‘that red-haired bastard’.  It’s unlikely that she would ever have done that considering that Mary had red hair too. However, according to Philippa Gregory she had lovely long black hair! That is just plain wrong and I can see no reason why Gregory would do that, particularly as their are numerous paintings of Mary and her red hair, and of course all the contemporary descriptions of Mary and her red or golden red hair.

This is the sort of thing which had put me off from reading more by this author, it seems she just likes to be different for the sake of it.

If you are interested you can click the link to my Hardwick Hall blogposts, it’s quite a few years since we visited, I hope we can go back there sometime in the future though as I loved it. Argh, that post was written in 2012.

Also if you are interested in Bess of Hardwick you might want to read the book by Mary S. Lovell

There are some more photos on that blogpost.

Windmill House and Garden, Sebaldeburen, Netherlands

In my recent post about the windmill at Sebaldeburen I mentioned that the job of windmill keeper comes with a house, a typically Dutch house but no two houses seem to be the same. The man who looks after the windmill took no credit for the garden though as he said that was his wife’s department!

Sebaldeburen Windmill House 2

The garden was all very lush, they had had as much rain as we had in the previous month or so, I think in another week it would have been much more colourful.

Sebaldeburen Windmill House garden

You can see that there are some veggies coming up in the photo below, amazingly they haven’t been chomped by slugs, which is what happened to my brother’s salad crops. They have been terrible this year due to all the rain. As you can see there’s even a large fruit cage in this garden, although if I had been lucky enough to have one of those I would have filled it full with berry bushes of all sorts, it looks a bit empty to me, but I suppose they are growing just what they can cope with, I still have some raspberry jam left over from last year despite giving a lot of it away.

Sebaldeburen Windmill House garden

If you look closely at the photos above and below you can see that someone (presumably the windmill keeper) has made a sort of mock up of a paddle steamer riverboat, using two big wheels as the paddles. If you zoom in on either end of the photos to see the detail you will see that there are a couple of stylish bird boxes attached to the ends. It’s quite a feature.

Sebaldeburen Windmill House garden 3

The windmill keeper spoke very good English and said that he had worked all over the world, incuding in England, Australia and New Zealand, but we didn’t ask him what he worked at, maybe it was windmills. The photo below shows a wooden model cutaway of the internal workings of a windmill.

Sebaldeburen Windmill  cutaway 2

It amazes me how someone came up with the idea as they’re so complicated looking.

The Runaway Summer by Nina Bawden – 20 Books of Summer

The Runaway Summer by Nina Bawden was first published in 1969 and it’s one of my 20 Books of Summer. The book is/was aimed at older children.

Mary’s parents are getting divorced and during the school holidays she has been sent to live with her Aunt Alice and grandfather who live on the coast, while everything is sorted out. Mary is premanently angry about the whole situation, she has no friends in the area and she knows that she’s behaving very badly towards Aunt Alice and Grandfather, but annoyingly they are very understanding, which only makes Mary feel worse!

In a fit of rage Mary runs out of the house and heads for the sea front where she gets into more trouble as she’s so angry she decides to steal some sweets, but her shoplifting has been seen by young twin sisters who have run away from their older brother Simon. He’s the eldest of a large chaotic family and their father is a policeman!

On one of her trips to the beach Mary watches a small boat coming towards it, when it reaches the shingle two dark men jump out and help a young boy out too. It all seems strange, none of them are dressed for a trip in a boat and they have suitcases, when they get on the beach the boatman sails off again. The young boy has a damaged arm and as the men make their way along the beach, he’s left behind and Mary can see that he’s crying.

But in no time the men are picked up by the police, and Mary decides that she must help the young boy and hide him from the authorities, but she’ll need help from Simon.

As you would expect fromm Nina Bawden this is a really well-written book, but I found myself checking the details about when it was first published and I must say that I find it fairly depressing that she was writing about illegal immigrants in small boats – and it’s still a huge problem and very much in the news 55 years later.

It turns out that Krishna had been flying from Kenya to London to stay with his uncle, but there was a deadline to do it legally and due to plane delays he had missed it, and so began all his troubles.

My  20 Books of Summer list is here. This is the sixth book that I’ve read on the list.