More book purchases

More Lovely Books

I’ve often seen copies of King Albert’s Book but as they’re over 100 years old they’re quite often in bad shape with torn pages, missing illustrations (they’re sort of tipped in) or drawn on. The book was sold in aid of the Belgian refugees at the beginning of World War 1 and published by The Daily Telegraph in conjunction with The Daily Sketch and The Glasgow Herald so there are quite a lot of them about. Basically it contains words of support for the Belgian people from many of the great and good of the day. There are illustrations by Edmund Dulac and Arthur Rackham to name a couple, pieces of music written by Elgar and Debussy and others. I bought it for all of £3. Beside it was a copy of Queen Alexandra’s Christmas Gift Book which I’ve never seen before. Again, this was sold for charity, but was published in 1908. She was apparently a keen photographer so it’s full of paper copies of many of her photos, tipped in as if they were in a photo album. There are a lot of family groups – the Empress of Russia appears a lot, but there are also photos of fjords and other places she visited and ships, including The Nimrod which was Captain Shackleton on his way to the South Pole in 1907. Another three quid – what a snip!


Books, Books, Books

The Glory of the Garden – snippets from Country Life magazine over the years.

The Strongest Weapon by Notburga Tilt (an Austrian Resistance member in WW2 – signed.)

Dunbar’s Cove by Borden Deal. I’ve never even heard of this book but it seems to be well liked on Goodreads. I’m shocked to see that a copy with the dust jacket just like mine is on sale on Amazon for over £220. Mine cost £1.

Now comes a clutch of crime fiction.

The Mystery of the Blue Train by Agatha Christie
Peril at End House by Agatha Christie
Penhallow by Georgette Heyer (I’ve already read this one but I didn’t have a copy)
The Doomed Five by Carolyn Wells

Lastly some children’s books.

The House in Cornwall by Noel Streatfeild
The Spanish Letters by Mollie Hunter
The Sprig of Broom by Barbara Willard
These Happy Golden Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Three of those are Puffin books and I have a feeling that I might just have inadvertently started a bit of a collection as I think I bought a couple a few weeks ago.

Recent Book Purchases

While we were away on our recent (football inspired) trip down to England we took the opportunity to seek out secondhand bookshops, although there aren’t that many of them around nowadays, we visited the Moffat shop when we stopped there for lunch. We each bought a book there. Then on to Penrith in Northumberland where we found another bookshop. We also visited Oswestry, Shrewsbury, Alcester, Stratford on Avon, Much Wenlock, Ironbridge and Kendal. The upshot of that is that I bought a total of 25 books, Jack bought 11, he’s always more reticent than I am! Some of them were bought in charity shops.

I didn’t find any books that I’ve been lusting after for ages, just some books from authors that I’ve read and enjoyed before, and a few from authors I had never even heard of – but I liked the look of them. Here are a few of them.

Latest Book Haul

1. Uncle Samson by Beverley Nichols. It was published in 1950 and is his observations on the American way of life. I think it’ll be a witty report on social history.

2. Rendezvous by Daphne du Maurier is a collection of her short stories.

3. Getting It Right by Elizabeth Jane Howard. I loved the Cazalet Chronicles so I have high hopes for this one.

4. Seven Dead by J. Jefferson Farjeon, a British Library Crime Classic.

5. Counting the Stars by Helen Dunmore. She’s an author that I’ve only recently discovered – sadly she died just a few months ago.

6. An Experiment in Love by Hilary Mantel, published in 1995 and very different from her Tudor books I’m sure.

I found three D.E. Stevenson paperbacks in an antiques centre for all of £1 each, they were the most interesting things in the whole place.

7. Still Glides the Stream by D.E. Stevenson

8. Crooked Adam by D.E. Stevenson

9. The House of the Deer by D.E. Stevenson.

10. The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall is a Virago which was going for 50p so although I know I could have borrowed it from the library I decided to buy it.

That’ll do for now. Have you read any of these ones?

RRS Discovery at Dundee

I love ships and there’s something special about lovely old wooden sailing ships and all that rigging, but I can’t imagine ever being brave enough to actually set sail in one – on a long journey anyway. Those chaps who sailed off to explore the Antarctic were incredible. The Royal Research Ship Discovery was launched in 1901.

Mast & lifeboat

Going aboard Discovery the first thing that you notice is the mushroom vents which are fitted on the decks, they’re the equivalent of skylights in a house roof and bring daylight and fresh air below decks, but they’re chunky (well they had to be) and they’re terrible obstacles for anyone getting about on deck, in fact they were nick-named ankle grinders by the crew. There are no portholes in the ship’s hull as they would have weakened the structure.

Mushroom vents

Going down into the hold I was surprised at how small it feels, considering they had to take so much with them in the way of stores.

Store room on RRS Discovery

Below Deck

Equipment Room

The actual living accommodation is quite stylish in an Edwardian sort of a way, with lovely wooden panelling, a bit gentlemen’s club-ish. It was a time when people knew their place in society though so although the officers had really comfortable looking cabins, complete with hanging bookshelves and a dining room the accommodation for the ‘men’ was basic. They just had hammocks slung up in the mess room, eating, sleeping and relaxing (if they ever could) in the same place.
Mess Room
The officers’ wardroom is in the middle of the ship with the officers’ cabins situated just off the room as you can see in the photo below.


I was quite taken with the officers cute wee rooms until I was told that they were the coldest part of the ship and the mattresses regularly froze up as they slept in them.
Officer's Quarters
Captain Scott’s cabin is very comfortable looking.
Scott's Quarters

Shackleton’s cabin below isn’t quite so plush.
Shackleton's Quarters

They had a gramophone player and a harmonium for entertainment, the harmonium is in the exhibition centre and is behind glass, presumably so that people can’t have a go of it. I was amused to see that the cast iron pedals say ‘mouse proof’ on them. It’s impossible to see that with all the reflections though. I suppose that harmonium bellows were made from leather which was apt to be gnawed by rodents.

They also wrote their own newspaper articles – for The South Polar Times – to keep their spirits up, some of them drew cartoons, it was all very light-hearted in a black humorous sort of way. When they got back home they were printed and bound with a very small amount of copies being published. They put on plays and shows with the men inevitably getting togged out in women’s clothing.
South Polar Times

Discovery cost £51,000 to build which is the equivalent of £4.1 million in modern currency. She did have a coal-fired steam engine but relied mainly on sail as they didn’t have enough storage space for the amount of coal required for a long voyage.

The Antarctic expeditions weren’t only about staking a claim on the territory for Britain, they also conducted important science experiments and made great discoveries.
Science Space

I was away – now I’m back!

I scheduled four posts just before leaving for a short break at the end of last week. We were in fact driving down to Oswestry which is very close to the Welsh border, at one point we had to drive into Wales and then out of it again to reach Oswestry which is a place neither of us had been before.

So what was the reason for our jaunt? Well, it was a football match because Jack is a very loyal supporter of Dumbarton Football Club (soccer). They’re what other supporters would probably call a ‘diddy’ team as they’re part-timers, all of them having ‘proper’ jobs, but this year they’ve done amazingly well in the Scottish Challenge Cup (officially known as the Irn Bru Cup because of its sponsors) and because they won the match at Oswestry they have now reached the final which thankfully will be played in Scotland.

I didn’t go to see the match, I stayed in the hotel and got on with reading Anna Karenina, a much more sensible thing to do, especially on a cold February night. I didn’t go online at all while we were away so I’m just catching up with replying to comments and reading blogs.

I plan to do another RRS Discovery post this week and also to tell you about the books that I bought on our travels – a worrying amount of them, but I just couldn’t say no!

The Town in Bloom by Dodie Smith

The Town in Bloom cover

The Town in Bloom by Dodie Smith is such an enjoyable read, better than I Capture the Castle in my opinion. I think lots of readers enjoy a theatrical setting, if that’s you you’ll probably like this one. It was first published in 1965.

It begins with three old friends getting together for a meal in London. They had all met up forty years previously in 1920s London where they had been involved in theatre work and they had all lived together in a club. There is a fourth friend but she hasn’t turned up.

The story quickly slips back to when they had first met. Mouse (her nickname) is a young Lancashire lass, just 18 years old who has always been star-struck. She hopes to follow in the footsteps of her great-aunt and go on the stage. Her aunt had given her an introductory letter to Rex Crossways a famous actor-manager and Mouse is determined to get a foot in the door of the theatre he heads.

She has enormous self-confidence but sadly little in the way of acting talent, she’s such a likeable person though, quite a charmer in a good way, but she ends up being a bit silly over Rex. This is I suppose a coming of age tale, Mouse certainly grows up quickly with the help of Lilian, Molly and Zelle, but she retains her youthful spirit although she realises that she has in fact become ‘elderly’ as she’s 59 at the end of the book, (that was a bit of a shocker for me – I’m surely not almost elderly?!) But crucially Mouse has plans for the future and hasn’t given up hope of having a successful career in another branch of the arts.

Smith’s descriptive writing is a delight, especially of all the clothes worn on stage and at the various social events, particularly a Suffolk village’s annual celebration.

RRS Discovery at Dundee

One day last week we decided to make our first ever visit to
RRS Discovery which is permanently berthed at Dundee. It’s the ship that took Scott and Shackleton on their first expedition to Antarctica.

We only live about 15 miles from Dundee and have often driven past Discovery but as both boys went on school trips to visit it seemed silly to take them again, so this was our first visit. The city of Dundee advertises itself as Dundee – City of Discovery which is quite smart as not only is it linked with the ship but it’s also known for the high standard of research that goes on at the Universities and Ninewells Hospital.

RRS Discovery bow part

I love ships in general but getting to go on board Discovery was a real treat. It seems amazing that she is so small but travelled all the way to the Antarctic braving all that ice. She was built in Dundee and that’s why she is berthed there now. The Dundee shipyard was chosen to build her because they were experienced at building whaling ships (it was different times) so they knew how to build incredibly strong ships. Below is a photo of the way Discovery was put together for maximum strength.

Structure of wooden sailing ships

We took loads of photos especially of the cramped space below decks, but I’ll leave that post for another day. In the photo below you can see the newly completed building which is the Scottish outpost of the V&A which is yet to open, I can hardly wait!

Discovery and V&A 2

A Spell of Winter by Helen Dunmore

A Spell of Winter cover

A Spell of Winter by Helen Dunmore won the 1996 Orange Prize and it is a great read if at times a bit shuddersome for any woman with a brother anyway.

Catherine and her brother Rob live in the country in a large dilapidated old house which belongs to their grandfather. Money is scarce now but the family had been wealthy in the past. Their mother has abandoned them and they have no contact with her, their father is in a sanatorium as a long-term patient. Kate and Eileen look after the children with Kate in particular being more like a surrogate mother to Catherine.

Their grandfather keeps them in the dark about both their parents. Why has the mother abandoned her children? There’s a ghastly character called Miss Gallagher who is supposed to be teaching the children but she all but ignores Rob whilst fawning on Catherine who despises her.

Time passes and a wealthy next-door neighbour shows an interest in Catherine and Rob isn’t happy about that at all, which leads him to do something unspeakable.

This book is a bit like Wuthering Heights with a hint of Jane Austen. There’s a lot more to the story than I’ve written about, I like to be quite sketchy about plots.

The Guardian said of Helen Dunmore: An electrifying and original talent, a writer whose style is characterized by a lyrical dreamy intensity.

More knitting – a shawl/stole

I’ve had some nice fluffy but not itchy Sirdar Kitten yarn languishing in my stash for a couple of years now, so I thought it was about time I browsed my knitting patterns and books to find something suitable to knit with it. I settled on this lacy shawl pattern, although I would describe it as being a stole as it’s just like a big wide scarf. It was recommended as a good design for using up bits and bobs of random yarns, and I might do that at some time in the future.


This pattern looks quite complicated but it only involves two different rows and one of those is just all purl apart from the three stitches at the beginning and end of every row. The only difficult thing about the pattern is the fact that the needles used are massive. I used 12 mm needles and it’s a bit like knitting with a clothes pole. I don’t think I would have liked to tackle using the 15 mm needles that the pattern actually recommended.

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase cover

Every now and again I like to read a children’s book that I missed out on when I was a child and The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken fits that bill. It was first published by Puffin in 1962 but my copy is a Vintage reprint.

I suppose that there have been plans to build a tunnel between Britain and France for donkey’s years, but it still seems strange to have the Channel Tunnel mentioned in a book that was published 50 or so years before it existed. The setting though is even earlier than 1962, the year is 1832 and young Bonnie has led a charmed life, the much doted on daughter of Sir Willoughby and Lady Green. But there are changes ahead for them all as Lady Green has been ill for some time and her husband is taking her on a voyage hoping to find a cure for her condition.

This means that a governess is required to look after Bonnie and the family estate, and a fourth cousin of Sir Willoughby is chosen for the job – Miss Slighcarp. None of them have ever met her before but are relying on the fact that she’s a relative of sorts and so they assume she’ll be trustworthy. It turns out though that she’s anything but trustworthy and so begins a nightmare for the whole household, including Sylvia who is a young cousin sent to Willoughby Chase, she’s a good companion for Bonnie.

The tunnel has enabled wolves from frozen mainland Europe to reach Britain and it makes life extremely dangerous. But it turns out that Miss Slighcarp is even more of a threat to the young girls than the wolves are.

This is quite a tense read, considering it’s aimed at children aged 9+. There are quite a few books in the series and I’ll work my way through them all eventually. Did you read these books when you were a child – or older?

Joan Aiken is the younger sister of the author Jane Aiken Hodge.

New Slains Castle in Aberdeenshire

New Slains Castle

A few weeks ago we drove up to Peterhead so that Jack could attend a football match – which ended up being cancelled, so we decided to make the best of the situation and visited some interesting locations around the area. My friend Christine had mentioned that Slains Castle was nearby, but might be a bit too spooky, and I must admit that I had never even heard of it. There are in fact two Slains Castles – an old and a new one. We visited both of them but there’s very little left of the old one and a farmer seems to be using it as a bit of a dumping ground.

New Slains Castle had a lot of re-building done over the years and the photo below shows that it ended up being given a Scots Baronial makeover at one point.

Slains Castle

Dracula author Bram Stoker had visited the new castle as a guest in its heyday and apparently the location inspired him to use it as a model for Dracula’s Castle. Sadly since those days the castle has fallen completely to ruin. In 1925 the owner decided to remove the roof to avoid paying tax on the building and as the building is practically hanging over the North Sea it won’t have taken long for the weather to ravage it, but it is very atmospheric.

New Slains Castle
Unusually for Scotland there’s quite a lot of red brick in the building of dividing walls and such, I suspect these bits were re-done in the 19th century.

New Slains Castle
You can see where the beams and joists were originally.

New Slains Castle

New Slains Castle

When we were there it was quite busy with foreign tourists and local kids. Those youngsters are always heart-stopping for me as they are fearless, it seems that if there’s a cliff around then there’ll be kids dangling their legs over the edge of it. This time I was amazed to see some boys aged about 14 had climbed right down to the sea – and even more gobsmacked when they disappeared behind a rock and emerged wheeling their bikes – they had ridden down there it seems!

We did climb up some of the castle stairs for a better view and to imagine what all the rooms must have been like but it does feel quite dangerous up there as because the floors have all gone you can’t walk from one room to another as there’s always a big gap between them, if you aren’t careful it would be easy to fall down into a downstairs corridor, it’s as scary as looking down a ravine.

New Slains Castle

The stairs are distinctly dodgy!
New Slains Castle

They chose a good spot for the castle though – both defensively and just for a spectacular view.


There have been quite a few accidents and strange deaths here and there were floral memorials and woven wooden things that must have been to keep witches away – and of course – red thread.

Somebody fell down the ravine below not long ago – don’t go too close!

Slains Castle Sea inlet

You can see more images of Slains Castle here.