Snowdrift and other stories by Georgette Heyer

This blogging malarkey is having a desperate effect on the to-be-read books in my house, it grows and grows, mainly because of book recommendations from fellow bloggers – not that I’m complaining really as I’ve found so many great reads that way.

 Memory of Water cover

It was Helen @ She Reads Novels who made me decide to request Snowdrift by Georgette Heyer from the library. You can see what she thought of it here.

I hadn’t read any Heyer short stories before although I’ve read quite a few of her novels, historical and crime/mystery fiction.

These short stories are like slipping into a warm bath, pure comfort, not that I’ve been reading them in the bath as I can’t do that for some reason. If you’re looking for escapism (which of us isn’t at the moment?!) then this one might fit the bill.

Snowdrift contains fourteen short stories and the last three haven’t been published before. For me they’re perfect bedtime reading, for when I’m not able to concentrate on anything too heavy. As you would expect quite a few of the stories feature Gretna Green as elopements and rumours of elopement are a fairly frequent theme.

As always I learned new words when reading her Regency romances, to me a domino is a games piece with dots on it, but apparently in Regency times it was a silk hood. There’s always a scattering of Regency slang words which have fairly obvious meanings from the context. I did look up a few of them in my dictionary just to see if they were real and not just made up – and they were real apparently. Unfortunately I can’t remember what any of them were now!

Rochdale Town Hall, Lancashire

We stayed in Rochdale for a few days last month, visiting friends who live there. I knew very little about the place, apart from knowing that like many towns it has a very grand town hall built in the Victorian Gothic Revival style. We had just missed a tour of the building and they only have a couple of them a week, but we were being treated to afternoon tea in the tearoom there so we were at least able to see some of the interior. I can highly recommend the afternoon tea – delicious.

Rochdale Town Hall

Rochdale Town Hall

Rochdale Town Hall Interior 1

Rochdale Town Hall fireplace

It’s a good setting for a wedding if you live in that area.
Rochdale Town Hall interior

Sue and I made a trip to the loos and we were held up a bit because there was an old lady in front of us, obviously not able to walk very quickly – and leaning on a man’s arm. Luckily they veered off in a different direction and Sue said to me “Did you realise who that was?” No I didn’t. It was the actress Julie Goodyear, better known as Bet Lynch of Coronation Street fame! And – blow me down – she had been wearing her trademark leopard print too, just in case people failed to recognise her I think. We all saw her from the front later on so Jack and I feel we got the authentic north of England experience of seeing a ‘soap’ actor around town. With Emmerdale also being filmed nearby actors can apparently be seen around and about quite often.

If you have no idea who Bet Lynch was you might like to see the clip of her below, when she was in her heyday. This is probably from around when I gave up watching Corrie as they went from two episodes a week to just about every day of the week. Too much.

It was obviously too much for Julie Goodyear as she seems to have retired from acting to concentrate on breeding horses. Martin and Sue pointed her property out to us, on the outskirts of Rochdale, she has a good view anyway.

Rochdale has come in for a lot of flak in recent years but I was quite impressed by it.

A Month in the Country by J.L. Carr

A Month in the Country cover

A Month in the Country by J.L. Carr was published in 1980 and was shortlisted for the Booker prize, and I can see why, it’s a good read with some really lovely writing. It’s also a very quick read, just a novella really.

It’s 1920, a searing hot summer and Tom Birkin has been given the job of removing centuries of layers of whitewash from a wall in a 12th century church in Oxgodby, a small village in Yorkshire. The whitewash is covering a medieval mural. It’s something he’s well qualified to do as he learned the technique when he was at art college.

He had a particularly rough time during World War 1 as a radio operator, stuck out in no-man’s land on his own, and he ended up with shell shock which is still hanging on in the shape of a facial tic. Will the village environment help his nerves heal?

While Tom is spending his time up scaffolding in the church there’s another wartime survivor called Moon camping in a field outside. He’s an archeologist and has been given the job of searching for the grave of an ancient knight. They recognise that they’ve shared many of the same experiences, they’re both badly damaged but the villagers are a friendly lot and Tom becomes an important part of the community albeit temporarily. It’s an experience that he’s looking back on fondly in his old age.

In 1987 this book was made into a film starring Colin Firth and Kenneth Branagh. Have any of you seen it?

J.L. Carr died in 1994 you can read his obituary here.

Blackpool Illuminations – and more

Central Pier, Blackpool

Last month when we were visiting friends in the north of England for a few days we were taken to see the Blackpool Illuminations – a first for both of us. I had heard that Blackpool was like lots of British coastal resorts, very much down-at-heel and that’s true for some parts of it. The sad truth is that it’s often cheaper for people to travel to Spain for a week than to stay in a seaside hotel in Britain.

Tower + tram at Blackpool

You can’t go to Blackpool and not buy some rock, it comes in all sorts of weird flavours nowadays, not just the mint of the past. So chilli, salted caramel and cheesecake flavours purchased, it was time to look at the Blackpool Tower. The TV programme Strictly Come Dancing must have been a godsend to Blackpool as it must have brought a lot of visitors to the place, to see the famous ballroom. But there was something going on in it when we were there, probably filming so we didn’t see the actual ballroom although there are still good Victorian details to admire in the rest of the interior.

Imperial Hotel Blackpool

We were treated to a splendid afternoon tea at a posh hotel, The Imperial – see above, but the framed celebrity photos on the walls spoke of a grander history when the likes of The Beatles and Jayne Mansfield visited.

Afternoon Tea at Imperial Hotel Blackpool

It was dry but windy and a wee bit chilly, so after filling up on delicious sandwiches, scones and cakes – twice as many as in the picture! – we got all day tickets for the trams and took a ride out to Fleetwood, about fifteen miles from Blackpool, but by the time we got there Fleetwood was shut! We had a walk about and Martin, who had gone there on holiday as a nipper, found a lot of changes although to me it looked fine, but was lacking the bowling greens and crazy golf of the past. There are a few buildings that would be recognisable by Edwardians who flocked to Fleetwood in its glory days as you can see from the photo below.

Fleetwood Pavilion
When we got back to Blackpool it was time for dinner, so we headed to a fish restaurant – as you do. Fish wrapped in batter is really the only kind that I like as it doesn’t taste very fishy.

By the time we had finished it was dark and the show had started, illuminations were lit up. I’ve known loads of people who go to the illuminations every year and I never really had any idea of what it was they were going to see – so now I know!

It’s a mixture of tableaux aimed at children I suppose, but I liked the Alice in Wonderland one.
Alice in Wonderland Lights
Lights Blackpool tram

The trams are festooned with lights making them look like riverboats and old steam trains, and the street on the long esplanade is decked out in a variety of designs. I was really quite impressed and I was surprised to discover that the illuminations are so temporary. It seems strange that they don’t have them there for the Christmas and New Year celebrations. Sadly most of our photos were too blurry but you can see more photos of the illuminations here.

They certainly brighten up a cold dark night but I suppose could be thought of as being a bit tacky, I think it’s just a bit of fun to try to prolong the tourist season after the summer holidays are over. It must use up a lot of electricity though so I hope in future years they can power a lot of it by solar!

Blackpool Illuminations

I thought you might like to see posters of Blackpool and Fleetwood in their heyday in the 1920s and 1930s.

Blackpool Illuminations
Blackpool

Fleetwood

The Weatherhouse by Nan Shepherd

 The Weatherhouse cover

The Weatherhouse by Nan Shepherd was first published in 1930 and it seems to be something of a Scottish classic, although I must admit that I hadn’t heard of Nan Shepherd until it was on the news that she was going to be featuring on the new £5 Bank of Scotland note. Jack read this book before me and he seems to have enjoyed it a lot more than I did. I do however really like the book cover!

The setting is a very small town called Fetter-Rothnie in north-east Scotland during World War 1. Captain Garry Forbes has returned home from the front, he’s had some terrible experiences there, including the death of his best friend David Grey. When he realises that Louise (Louie) Morgan (the late minister’s daughter) is claiming that she was engaged to David Grey, Garry is incensed. He knows it isn’t true and it feels like the memory of his friend is being besmirched. Louisa is using his death to give her a sense of importance within the community, a dead love being better than no love at all. She’s a compulsive liar and thief so has never been popular.

Garry becomes obsessed with getting Louisa to admit that she’s lying, but most of the inhabitants are happy to let Louisa have her moment in the limelight and believe what Louisa says.

The Weatherhouse of the title is a house full of women, three generations of them and Garry is in love with Lindsay Lorimer, who is related to the women in the house, but his obsession is getting in the way of their relationship.

I was fairly underwhelmed by this book from a storyline point of view, in fact when I got to about page 80 I asked Jack when the book was going to get interesting and he just gave me A LOOK! Each to their own I thought!

Yes it is well written, quite poetic at times, but crucially for me all those female characters weren’t well enough drawn and as a result I never felt that I cared much about what happened to them – or didn’t.

I’m the sort of reader that really inhabits a book as I read it, but as there was nobody in this one whose company I was keen to be in – it wasn’t for me. I seem to be unusual in this as the book has been called ‘Spellbinding’ by Ali Smith. Mind you I’m never led to love anything just because I’m told to!

If you want to read what Jack thought of this one have a look here. For him, it’s almost a rave review.

The Classics Club Spin number result – 4

The Classics Club Spin number is 4. That means I have to read Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell. Not exactly a comfy or easy read I’m sure, but I’ve only got myself to blame for putting it on my list! I’ve been meaning to get around to reading it for ages.

To make matters worse my copy is in one of those huge doorsteps of a book, containing four other Orwell books and a collection of his essays. Unwieldy isn’t the word.

Looking on the bright side, I’m sure I’ll feel a great sense of achievement when I get it finished. I should be blogging about it around about the 31st of December. Have any of you read it?

Mary Berry’s Bakewell Slices

Bakewell Traybake

I bought a copy of Mary Berry’s Baking Bible recently and one of the first recipes I tried out was Bakewell Slices – they’re absolutely delicious. Apparently as the pastry contains a lot of fat and no sugar there’s no need to line the tin with baking parchment. Mine didn’t stick anyway.

For the shortcrust pastry

175g (6 oz) plain flour
75g (3oz) butter
2-3 tablespoons of cold water

For the filling
about four tablespoons of raspberry jam (I used half a jar of jam)

For the sponge mixture
100g (4oz) softened butter
175g (6oz) self-raising flour
1 level teaspoon baking powder
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons milk
half a teaspoon of almond extract

1. To make the pastry, measure the flour into a bowl and rub in the butter, until the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs. Gradually add the water and mix to form a soft dough.
2. Roll out the dough and use to line a 30×23 cm (12×9 inches) baking tray. Pre-heat the oven to 180 C/Fan 160 C/Gas 4
3. Measure all the sponge ingredients into a bowl and beat until well blended. Spread the raspberry jam onto the pastry, then top it with the sponge mixture. Sprinkle with flaked almonds.
4. Bake in the pre-heated oven for about 25 minutes or until the cake has shrunk back from the sides of the tin and springs back when pressed in the centre with your fingertips. Leave to cool in the tin and then cut in the slices.

I used margarine instead of butter and I can’t imagine it could taste any better with butter.

Mary Berry's Baking Bible cover

The Golden Bird – Two Orkney Stories by George Mackay Brown

The Golden Bird cover

The Golden Bird by George Mackay Brown consists of two novellas, the first one called The Golden Bird and the second one The Life and Death of John Voe. It won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1987. The author is probably better known for his poetry.

I really enjoyed this book although possibly the fact that we were in Orkney in June and so I knew a lot of the places mentioned contributed to my enjoyment. I could picture exactly a certain spot mentioned in Stromness main street and many other locations.

The settings are Orkney in the 19th century, a time when the way of life there was beginning to change. It was a hard and dangerous life and when two of the men who had been fishing partners and shared a boat fell out over the division of their catch, it begins a feud that continues for generations.

The second novella The Life and Death of John Voe is about a man who had left the islands to seek adventures abroad. He hadn’t wanted to knuckle down on the family croft as a youngster, but after years on the sea and in South America and even some time as a gold panner, a failed romance prompts him to turn for his home in Orkney. It’s time to get back to crofting, but all is not as he expects it to be.

These tales are an enjoyable glimpse back to the past.

Battlefield/Langside in Glasgow

One day last month we decided to travel to my beloved west of Scotland, all of seventy or so miles away from where we now live, but a miss is as good as a mile – as THEY say. We were aiming to visit Holmwood House, an Arts and Crafts house which is now owned by the National Trust. I’ll blog about that house sometime in the future.

On the way back from that part of Glasgow I mentioned to Jack that an ancestor of mine (great great uncle?) had designed a church and monument in Battlefield, which happened to be the area we were in, just as I said that we passed the monument which is now situated on a traffic roundabout! The Wiki link is wrong, I think that must have been his son who went to Australia.

Battlefield Monument

It’s much bigger than I had imagined. The monument commemorates the Battle of Langside in 1568 which ended with the defeat of Mary, Queen of Scots’s army on that site, or certainly nearby. Alexander Skirving designed the monument in 1887 which was the 320th anniversary of her defeat.

As ever, we in Scotland are always in a bit of a quandary, would we have supported her or been on the other side? I suppose it depends which religious leader you favour – the Pope or John Knox. What a choice!

The church is now a bar and eatery, as so many of them are nowadays, if they haven’t been turned into flats or demolished. We had already had our lunch at Holmwood, we’ll try that restaurant out another time though.

Church

Battlefield/Langside Church

After that the only thing I wanted to seek out was the street that I knew must be fairly nearby, named after the architect and also of course my own maiden name. With a bit of help from a passerby we found it, as you can see it’s typical Victorian tenements, it’s actually quite a long street the photo below is about half of it.

Skirving Street

There are shops further up, including a bookshop which very annoyingly was closed for the day. It was a bit surreal to see my surname above a Chinese take away. They’re usually called Lucky Date, Golden Moon or some such thing, but I suppose it means that people won’t forget where it is! It’s something that Alexander Skirving could never have foretold when he designed buildings for this area.

Chinese cuisine

There aren’t that many of us about with that Skirving surname, in fact I’ve never met any that I wasn’t related to. It appears in ancient Scottish surname books, but not in ordinary ones, and is of course originally Scandinavian/Viking. Some people like to think that in Britain our ancestors have been here forever and a day, but like everywhere else we’re just a bunch of mongrels when you get right down to it.

street sign

The Towers of Trebizond by Rose Macaulay

The Towers of Trebizond cover

The Towers of Trebizond by Rose Macaulay was published in 1956 and it won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. I’m attempting to work my way through the long list of all the books that have won the prize, it’ll be a long task.

This is a book that some bloggers have been raving about, although I enjoyed it I did find it a bit of a drag at times, it’s definitely curate’s eggish. The thing is though – the good parts are really very good, so funny. I’m not a big fan of organised religions and there are quite a few long passages about Christianity and other religions that were just a bit too long for my liking. It seems it’s all very autobiographical.

Laurie the narrator sets of on a tour of Turkey with her rather eccentric Aunt Dot and a very high anglican priest called Father Chantry-Pigg. Aunt Dot intends to write a book about their journey and Laurie will illustrate it. Dot has an ulterior motive though, she’s a keen supporter of women’s rights and as she regards the Moslem religion as being so controlling of women, she’s on a mission to convert them to Christianity.

Father Chantry-Pigg is Dot’s terrifically intolerant and snooty companion, and Doctor Halide is a female doctor who has been converted to Christianity from the Moslem faith of her upbringing, mainly because she can’t agree with the way Moslem women are treated.

Laurie has been having an affair with a married man for the last ten years, and that has put something of a dampener on her religious life.

Famously this book begins: ‘”Take my camel dear,” said my aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass.’

The reason why she is having to travel on a camel is because while she had been dining with Prof Gilbert Murray and Archbishop David Mathew, her Morris car had been stolen by an Anglican bishop!

With Aunt Dot and Father Chantry-Pigg disappearing over the Russian border and Laurie having to continue her travels on her own with the camel, this is definitely worth reading although I can’t say I liked the ending.