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

Redheads at the Chalet School by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer was first published in 1964, but my copy is a very recent reprint by Girls Gone By.  This one is a bit of a departure from the usual Chalet School series as it’s more of a thriller than boarding school story.

It begins with Flavia and her step-father travelling on a train on the way to the Chalet School. Flavia has red hair and most people call her Copper for that reason, but her step-father explains she must use her real name at school and she has been enrolled under her original surname, instead of her step-father’s surname.

Flavia’s step-father is a policeman and one of his investigations has led to the hanging of a member of a vicious gang. The other gang members have sworn to get their own back on him, Flavia’s life is in danger, but to begin with she doesn’t know that.  The headmistress has been given all the information though.

From almost the beginning it’s obvious that there are nefarious characters hot on the track of Flavia, they know that they’re looking for a girl with red hair, but there are several such lucky girls at the school. Inevitably the wrong girl is nabbed! But of course all ends well eventually.

I enjoy these Girls Gone By reprints, there’s usually a short story at the end by a contemporary Girls Gone By writer.  In this case it’s  An Inspector Calls by Lisa Townsend. There’s also a few pages about the publishing history, notes on the text, and at the very beginning there’s a bit by Ruth Jolly about the apparently fairly regular appearance of girls with red hair attending The Chalet School,  there are more of them than would be expected in society. She also mentions other characters with red hair in literature, and that old chestnut that redheads are supposed to have a fiery temper, which of course had me rolling my eyes as a redhead myself, or as my mother described me – a strawberry blonde.

I almost feel a blogpost coming on about walking in a person’s shoes, because unless you have red hair you have no idea what it’s like! It is the only prejudice which is quite happily allowed nowadays, and features in TV adverts, where derogatory comments about skin colour definitely aren’t tolerated.

 

The National Gallery of Scotland, Princes Street, Edinburgh/ The Royal Scottish Academy

When we visited The National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh last week to see The Printmaker’s Art exhibition we also took the time to look at an exhibition there called Now and Then, sponsored by Visual Arts Scotland.

I wasn’t a big fan of the way it was organised because there is no information about the paintings. They’re all for sale, but you have to enquire at a desk for any info and prices, very off-putting I think. Just a couple of them had been sold, for that reason I think. So the photos below are just a few of the works that I liked, but won’t be buying!

I was attracted to the painting below because it reminds me of a children’s book illustration, especially those from Eastern Europe, for some reason, but also like a painted sampler.

Like a children's book cover

The three below seemed very atmospheric to me.

Three pictures

Below isn’t a painting at all, it has been machine stitched, and the effect is quite beautiful when viewed from close up, and at a distance.

Machine Stitch

And below is an atmospheric cityscape – I think.

Cityscape by Karen Laird

If you want to explore the galleries – art and artists –  virtually, from the comfort of your own sofa, you can do so here.

 

The Winter List by S.G. MacLean

The Winter List by S.G. MacLean is a sequel to The Seeker which is set in London in 1654, a time when Oliver Cromwell has taken over and had King Charles I executed.

The Winter List begins in London 1660, the Cromwell era is over and King Charles II is on the throne. Many of those who had supported Cromwell are being hunted down and executed without a trial, there’s a list of regicides who it’s believed had been instrumental in the execution of the king, and Lady Anne Winter, a Royalist spy has been tasked with discovering the innocence or guilt of the suspects.

She travels to York with her Scottish assistant Grizel, she doubles as Lady Anne’s servant but in reality Grizel is good at codebreaking, it’s a very handy talent to have. Manon is the daughter of Damian Seeker and is now married and settled in York with her husband and children. They’re terrified of being accused of being Republicans. Seeker is on the list, he terrified people in Cromwell’s times and the Royalists want to get their own back. Manon’s husband is under suspicion, Lady Anne arranges for Grizel to get work within the heavily pregnant Manon’s household, but that is the least of their problems.

I really liked this one, but I have jumped ahead in the series and will really have to go back and read the others.

 

 

The Printmaker’s Art Exhibition, at the National Scottish Gallery, Edinburgh

Last week we went to The Printmaker’s Art exhibition  in Edinburgh. Here are a few of the highlights. This exhibition isn’t a free one, unless you are a ‘Friend of the Galleries’. It costs £14 for an adult ticket.  It was very busy, possibly because it doesn’t have all that long to run now, it closes on February the 25th.  The prints below are some of my favourites.

 

Sudden Shower below the Summit by Hokusai.

Hokusai Print

 

Concert Hall by Sybil Andrews

Sybil Andrews, Concert Hall

 

Virginia Woolf by her sister Vanessa Bell

Vanessa Bell

 

Jane Avril by Toulouse Lautrec

Jane Avril, Toulouse Lautrec

 

The Triple Hecate by William Blake

William Blake, The Triple Hecate

 

Grey Horse Head by Elisabeth Frink

Grey horse head, Elizabeth Frink

It’s a big exhibition, with four large rooms to visit, featuring Warhol, Picasso, Elizabeth Blackadder, Durer, Lichtenstein, Hockney and many more. I always find art galleries to be too hot and so exhausting, but it was well worth visiting.

Sword at Sunset by Rosemary Sutcliff

Sword at Sunset by Rosemary Sutcliff was published in 1963. The author has written a lot of books for children but this one is for adults, I enjoyed it but felt that it was about 100 pages too long, as often happens, for me there were too many battles, but it was probably a fairly true reflection of life in post-Roman Britain which is the setting, rather than the medieval knights and ladies which have often been part of Arthurian legend. So there’s no Round Table, no Camelot and no romance, it’s a much more brutal and rougher world.  Artos is seduced by Ygerma before he realises she’s his sister. There’s no Lancelot, but Artos is betrayed by another.

Ambrosius, who may have been of royal  Roman descent is leader of the ‘Britons’ and as he has no son of his own he sees Artos (the Bear) as the closest thing he will ever have to a son.  Ambrosius is the High King, but his fighting days are over, he’s just passing on his wisdom now.  They both know that at some point there will be battles with the Saxons and they need to prepare for that. Lord Artos says that they don’t have enough horses and they need to breed bigger war horses, to take on the Saxons, it’ll take years.

This is well written and enjoyable, but as I said, it was a wee bit too long for me. Well I have so many books in my TBR pile.

One thing which sort of annoyed me is that my edition of the book is an American one,  published by Coward-McCann, it has a nice map as the endpapers, but they changed the spellings to American ones, which means that some poor soul had to trawl through the book making the changes. Why bother? Especially as there aren’t that many changes involved, but it jolted me out of  early post-Roman ‘Britain’ to the US – daft as that may seem.

 

 

A snowdrop walk in Fife

Snowdrops in Balbirnie Park.

snowdrops, Balbirnie Park, Fife

I spoke to an elderly man who told me that these snowdrops were grown commercially originally and as a young lad he had picked them and packed them into boxes for sale in the cities. The Victorian estate is probably why there was a railway station nearby.

snowdrops, Balbirnie Park, Fife

 

snowdrops , Balbirnie Park, Fife

There are several places advertising snowdrop walks, in rural estates where you have to pay for the privilege, but there is probably somewhere near you where you can admire the snowdrops for free. Within Fife in the east of Scotland there are swathes of snowdrops in Falkland, Glenrothes and Balbirnie Park. Unfortunately the snowdrops don’t look great in these photos, but the burn (stream) and trees look fairly scenic.

If you look closely at the photo below you’ll see a heron, almost in the middle of it, I love those birds but a friend of mine thinks they look like vultures and can’t stand them, I think they look elegant.

heron , Balbirnie Park, Fife

Balbirnie has some great trees in it, even some redwoods, but some haven’t survived.

Balbirnie Park, Fife, trees

Sadly, with all the terrible storms we’ve had to endure this winter there were also quite  a few trees which had been blown over. The saddest one is in the photo below, I think it was a beech tree, going from the smoothness of the trunk, but it’s hard to tell when there are no leaves on trees and you can’t even see the shape that it grew in. If it was a beech tree it looks like it must have been between 150 and 200 years old, beech trees tend to fall over after 200 years anyway. It damaged some other trees on the way down,  but bizarrely it landed across the length of what was a lovely wee stone  bridge, and is now blocking it completely, I’m just amazed that the bridge hasn’t collapsed under the immense weight of the tree, but one side of it is badly damaged. It’s on council land and given the state of the budget it’s doubtful if it will ever be fixed.

fallen tree, Balbirnie Park, Fife

As you can see they have already cut up some of the tree, but maybe they are waiting for more experienced people to deal with the rest of it. It’ll be an awkward job.

fallen tree , snowdrops , stone bridge, Balbirnie, Fife

You can just see the intact side of the small bridge through the leaves in the photo above.

Balbirnie Park, fallen tree, Fife

So many trees are lost with every storm we get, and as this winter they’ve been coming at the rate of two a week at times, it’s time some serious tree replacement started.

 

Between the Acts by Virginia Woolf

Between the Acts by Virginia Woolf was published in 1941, but seems to have been written on the cusp of war.  Not long after finishing this book Woolf had filled her pockets with stones and walked into the River Ouse, depression is a terrible thing. Her husband wrote that he didn’t think that she would have made much in the way of changes to the text, if she had lived. That’s a real shame as for me the best thing about this novella was that it was only 100 pages long.  Suicide was obviously on her mind as she even mentions a man who had drowned himself.

About half of the book features a local village pageant, something which was popular in the days when people had to make their own entertainment, and also features in one of  E F  Benson’s Mapp and Lucia books, albeit briefly. A pageant is the sort of thing that people would have gone to because ‘their wee Jeannie’ or someone they knew had a bit part in it.  I found it really boring. Between the acts of the play/pageant there’s chat among the audience.

The blurb says: Between the Acts, an account of a village pageant in the summer preceding the Second World War which successfully interweaves comedy, satire and disturbing observation.

Sadly it just didn’t do it for me. I’m a bit worried about having to read her The Years for the Classics Club spin, especially as it’s a lot longer.

 

 

Visiting art exhibitions

This coming week we’re going to Edinburgh to visit a couple of art exhibitions before they close, the time seems to go so quickly nowadays. So we’ll be going to the City Art Centre which is just at the back of Waverley Railway Station to see the    Exhibition, and then on to the National Gallery on Princes Street to see The Printmaker’s Art from Rembrandt to Rego exhibition.

But soonish we hope to be travelling further afield, weather permitting, maybe even down to England, so I’ve been doing some research. There are plenty of places we haven’t visited before. As a good Scot I like to get my money’s worth, and as a member of the Scottish National Trust and Historic Scotland I/we can get into the English versions free too.  I’ll be happy to get recommendations from any of you who have enjoyed days out in any of them.

English Heritage Collections

National Trust Collections 

 

The Revolt of the Eaglets by Jean Plaidy

The Revolt of the Eaglets by Jean Plaidy was first published in 1977.

The year is 1171 and King Henry Plantagenet is celebrating the arrival of the New Year in Castle Argentan, he’s looking forward to returning to England soon where he’ll be reunited with his long-term mistress Rosamund Clifford. Their affair is common knowledge now since his wife of nineteen years Queen Eleanor discovered it.

When Henry gets word that Thomas a Beckett has been murdered by four of Henry’s men, in Canterbury Cathedral, he’s furious as he knows he will be blamed for it, well in truth he did more or less give the order for the argumentative Thomas to be got rid of. Within two years Thomas has been canonised by the Pope.

Queen Eleanor is a woman scorned. She was a powerful woman before she married Henry, she owns the rich lands of Aquitaine, and she’s determined to set her Plantagenet sons against their father.  Strangely the eldest son Henry has already been crowned, but he has no power and that enrages him.

Meanwhile, King Henry can’t be faithful to any woman, but shockingly he has seduced and impregnated the 11 year old girl who is to marry his son Richard, she’s also the daughter of the French King Louis and King Henry is terrified that her father will discover the secret.

I enjoyed this one although these older historical fiction books often have a more stilted style of writing.

 

 

Consider the Lily by Elizabeth Buchan

Consider the Lily by Elizabeth Buchan was published in 1993.

The story begins in 1929 when cousins Matty and Daisy attend a wedding. They’ve been brought up together since Matty’s parents died. Daisy’s family is upper class but has fallen on hard times, like many, but Matty inherited a lot of money from her parents which has been quite handy for Daisy’s mother as Matty contributed to the family coffers, but Matty was never given any love or even appreciation.

Both cousins have fallen for the brother of the bride, but it’s the vibrant and vivacious Daisy that Kit is in love with. Kit is the only son, his father Sir Rupert is suffering from his experiences in World War 1 and the estate has fallen into disrepair and needs a large injection of money. When Kit is suffering from a hangover and in despair at his situation he makes a decision which pleases his father but makes everyone else unhappy. It transpires that Sir Robert and his family have experienced a lot of trauma over the years.

This was a really good read, it’s 469 pages long but it didn’t seem like that, I suppose because I was engrossed in it. There’s also quite a lot about the planning and planting of a garden in the book, and horticulture in general, but it’s done in a subtle way I think and won’t be intrusive to people who aren’t so interested in plants.

Elizabeth Buchan is married to the grandson of the author John Buchan. The only other book that I’ve read by her is Revenge of the Middle Aged Woman which I believe was dramatised for TV, but looking back at my review of it it seems that I wasn’t as impressed with that one.