The Pearl by John Steinbeck

The Pearl cover

The Pearl by John Steinbeck was first published in 1947 and my copy seems to be a first edition, not that I bother about such things, it cost me all of £3. It’s a very slim volume, so I read it in no time at all – a bedtime read.

It begins early in the morning in a shack in Mexico where Kino, a pearl fisher, and his wife Juana are just waking up. They have one child, a son called Coyotito, the centre of their lives, so when he is bitten by a scorpion they’re panic stricken.

They have no money to pay for a doctor and hope that Juana’s swift action in sucking out the poison will save the child. But Juana still wants to go to the doctor to make sure, the doctor isn’t much better than a quack and he’s not interested in helping the child of peasants who don’t have money to pay him.

Kino is desperate to find a large pearl, thinking that that would solve all of their problems, but when miraculously he does find a huge pearl it brings out the worst in just about everybody around him.

This is a story about greed and envy which was apparently based on a Mexican folk tale. It’s not exactly uplifting and I can’t say that I really enjoyed it much, in fact it’s quite depressing, but no doubt it’s quite realistic in its portrayal of human character.

Shakespeare’s Birthplace at Stratford-on-Avon

When we visited Oswestry so Jack could go to a football match last month we decided to stay a couple of nights near Stratford too. We had visited Stratford-on-Avon a few times before but hadn’t visited Shakespeare’s birthplace before. This time around we had free entry via Art passes we had been given at Christmas so we thought it would be daft not to visit. The photo below is from the back, there were some actors putting on a bit of one of his plays just to the side of the house.

Shakespeare's House

Below is the house from the front, there’s a wide pedestrianised road between it and the houses opposite which look about the same age.

Shakespeare's House

Below is a photo of the room that Shakespeare was born in although it isn’t the actual bed. The wee oval wooden baby’s crib is of the correct period though, and seeing it I realised for the first time why they were called basinettes in those days as it looks just like a basin.

The small truckle bed was for the boys to sleep in after they outgrew the crib. The ropes look nice and tight for a good night’s sleep. Apparently the girls in those days didn’t have anything so luxurious,they just had to sleep on the ground – typical!

Shakespeare's House

As the boys grew older they moved into the room below, their parents’ bedroom is through the doorway to the left.
Shakespeare's House

A different bedroom is below, they seem to be fond of red and green bed hangings. I wonder if that was the colour of his famous second best bed that he left to Ann Hathaway.
Shakespeare's House

Shakespeare’s father was a glover and below is his small workroom which is on the ground floor of the house.

Shakespeare's House

Although the crib on the left hand side looks very old I gather from the guide that it isn’t original, it’s very cute though. I love the dark carved chest too.

Shakespeare's House

I’ve always had a hankering to have a split door like this one – well maybe not so craggy. I’m not sure what you call them, I think I thought they were called farm doors but I’ve recently heard them described as being Dutch doors. My brother in Holland certainly has one for his front door.

Shakespeare's House

Below is another view of the house from the back. We were quite lucky that it wasn’t too busy when we went around the house. We did try to visit Ann Hathaway’s house earlier but just as we parked the car a tour bus turned up so we decided to give it a miss as it would have been very crowded. If you’re interested in my previous post on Stratford have a look here. Amazingly it was way back in 2012 when I did that one – how time flies.

Shakespeare's House

There’s a lovely old window in the house and over the years lots of famous visitors have scratched their names into the glass, but sadly they didn’t show up in the photo.

The Watersplash by Patricia Wentworth

 The Watersplashcover

The Watersplash by Patricia Wentworth was first published in 1954 and it’s a Miss Silver mystery. Wentworth is so skilled at conjuring up the atmosphere of a small English village, and the way that so many of the inhabitants are linked to each other – by blood, marriage and extended family friendships. Throw in a local telephone system where everybody has a party line and can listen in to their neighbour’s conversations and a huge capacity for gossip as a way of brightening up what is generally a boringly quiet life and you have a good recipe for a mystery.

Edward Random has just returned home to Greenings after a five year absence during which time his father (the local squire) believed him to be dead. Edward’s father had changed his will in favour of his brother Arnold, so his nose was very much out of joint when he realised his nephew was still alive. Everyone expects Arnold to give up his inheritance to Edward, but he has no intention of doing that, in fact he won’t have anything to do with his nephew.

Rumours abound – what has Edward been up to during his five years of absence? When there’s a murder in the village Miss Silver is asked to investigate. Luckily she had already been invited to stay at Greenings by the daughter of an old friend and it’s not long before she’s getting submerged in everybody’s business.

Whilst she knits a succession of pale pink baby vests she gets to the bottom of it all satisfactorily. I had a fair idea who the perpetrator was but that didn’t detract from my enjoyment. I really think I prefer Miss Silver to Miss Marple. I believe the two characters were ‘born’ in the same year. Patricia Wentworth just seems to have been unfortunate that Agatha Christie’s books were much more of a commercial success. Maybe Patricia Wentworth should have indulged herself with some sort of adventure that was taken up by the tabloid newspapers the way Christie did!

Buzzards or Hawks ?

Last Thursday our weather changed (for one day only!) and out in the garden I could actually feel some warmth from the sun. It was time to do some garden tidying after a long hard winter, in fact I just about filled the brown garden waste wheelie bin and there’s still a lot more to tackle.

But it wasn’t long before I hear a familiar plaintive cry – that of what I think are buzzards who seem to spend a lot of time wheeling around in the sky calling to each other. Is it a mating ritual I wonder? Well it’s getting on for that time of the year. There were four of them up there, presumably having fun, you can only see three in the wee video that I took of them though.


There are an awful lot of buzzards and hawks around wherever we go in Scotland, numbers just seem to have exploded in recent years. I suppose that means there must be plenty for them to eat.

I like the photo below as you can fairly clearly see the wings of the nearest bird. I’m wondering if these are hawks or buzzards, do you have any idea?

3 Buzzards

The Black Prince by Iris Murdoch

The Black Prince cover

The Black Prince by Iris Murdoch was first published in 1973 and I know that this is one of the few books that I had previously given up on, way back in the 1970s. I can’t remember now why I abandoned it but possibly when I realised it wasn’t historical fiction . I read this one because it won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, and I’m trying to read as many as those books as I can – a personal project.

I must say that although I can appreciate that it’s well written, it just wasn’t my cup of tea, it took me quite a while to read the 415 pages, about six days probably, just because I was never in a hurry to get back to the story. The book is written in three parts and then has several postscripts from various characters, but during the second part I was tempted to pack it in because I really didn’t like or care what happened to any of the characters.

The main story is told by Bradley Pearson who has recently retired from working in a government tax office. He’s hoping to concentrate on his writing as he has published some books in the past. His closest friend is Arnold Baffin who is a much more successful author and his life becomes entangled with Arnold’s family.

Or does it? Because Bradley isn’t exactly a reliable narrator – or is he? Like many people Bradley rewrites history to suit himself and the postscripts leave the reader none the wiser as other characters throw in their tuppence worth. Basically the reader ends up being judge and jury. Who is telling the truth?

Not for me. I’ll probably give it a three on Goodreads.

Loch Lomond and Ben Lomond

One day last week we had to drive over to my beloved west of Scotland, it’s only around 70 miles away but it’s very different from the east coast. Below is a photo of Ben Lomond, I don’t remember ever seeing it with so much snow on it before.
Snow on Ben Lomond

There was still plenty of snow piled at the side of the roads on the way there, but by the time we got to central Scotland, the Stirling area – it had disappeared. We couldn’t resist stopping at Loch Lomond to take this photo of Ben Lomond capped with snow. I was brought up just a few miles away from here and in the summertime, in the days when we actually used to have decent summer weather, I used to walk here to visit my older married sister who lived nearby.

In Scotland the largest hill in any area is called ‘ben’ and locally that one will always just be known as ‘the ben’.

Snow on  Ben Lomond

We drove onward to Arrochar and Tarbet where what had been a gorgeous day turned briefly quite grim with rain, so no photos were taken but you can see some images of the area here.

I took the photo below of Loch Long whilst we were driving along, it reminds me of the Norwegian fjords with those layers of mountains in the background.

Loch Long
Then we drove over to Rhu and Helensburgh by a very skinny road which twists and turns and has ups and downs reminiscent of a big dipper ride. We breathed in at times whenever a 4×4 was coming from the other direction. You can see images of Rhu and Helensburgh here.

It’s a pity there are so many trees lining the loch as it can be quite difficult to get a glimpse of it at times.
Loch Long

The only place that you can stop is when you reach the Ministry of Defence area, where my dad used to work in fact, straight ahead it’s a blot on the landscape, all military metal, nuclear nonsense and razor wire, but looking back up Loch Long it does feel very Nordic.

Loch Long

Loch Long

A walk around Helensburgh and coffee at The Sugar Boat ended a perfect day out.

Pawn in Frankincense by Dorothy Dunnett

Pawn in Frankincense cover

Pawn in Frankincense by Dorothy Dunnett was first published in 1969 and it’s the fourth book in her Lymond series.

To begin with I had a look at the chapter headings to see where the story was set because I much preferred the Scottish parts of the last book, so I was slightly down-hearted when I realised that it was almost all set in the near/middle east. But I needn’t have been as this was a great read.

The year is 1552. In the last book Lymond discovered that a woman he had had a brief relationship with had given birth to a son, but they’ve been captured and he’s intent on tracking them down.

An old soothsayer has given him hope that his quest will be succesful. At the same time he plans to seek out Sir Graham Reid Mallett and give him his comeuppance.

As ever with Dunnett there’s plenty of action and intrigue, right up to the very end.

I’m not doing very well with my Scottish reading so far this year, this is only the second book I’ve read by a Scottish author – must do better.

Classics Club Spin number 17

Well the Classics Club Spin number has been chosen, it’s number 3 so the book that I’ll have to read before April 30th is Sir Walter Scott’s Bride of Lammermoor.

That’s fine by me as I’ve been meaning to read that one for ages. My copy which was published by Richard Edward King Limited originally belonged to Jack’s grandfather so it’s very old, but strangely it has no publication date on the front. The print is very small so although it’s only 316 pages long that probably translates to over 600 pages in a more modern print size. I think I’ll download it from Project Gutenberg so I can read it on my Kindle, or get a more modern copy.

Did you take part in the spin, and are you pleased with what you have to read?

Much Wenlock, Shropshire, England

I had vaguely heard of Much Wenlock and there’s a bookshop there (it’s on a list) so we decided to visit it when we were staying in Oswestry for a few days. Sadly when we got there the bookshop was closed, but the town is so quaint we were happy just to have a look around it. Much Wenlock is the birthplace of the modern Olympic Games apparently.

The only shop that was open was a terrifying antiques shop. It’s the most jam packed shop I’ve ever been in with towers of ‘stuff’ everywhere, almost all of it very breakable too as the stock seems to consist of 99% china/pottery! We carefully negotiated the piles but were too terrified to pick anything up to look at it, we would probably have had to move six other pieces to get to anything interesting anyway. So breathing carefully, we squeezed out again – heaving a sigh of relief – no damage done.

Wenlock  Priory Board

Back out on the pavement we spotted a sign pointing to the priory and made our way there. There’s actually still quite a lot to see and some of the stonework is very ornate. What is left dates from the 13th century. Luckily English Heritage look after it, so as we’re in Historic Scotland at the moment we didn’t have to pay to get in.

Wenlock Priory Buildings  + Topiary

Wenlock Priory

Wenlock Priory
The priory must have looked fabulous in its day but over the years most of the stones have been recycled for use in local buildings as usually happens with these places.
Wenlock priory
Wenlock Priory
Walking back to the car I took a few photos of some not quite so ancient buildings. The one below is brick built.

Much Wenlock buildings
I particularly like the building below as I can just imagine people hanging over the balcony to chat to people in the street 500 years ago.

Much Wenlock

Much Wenlock Buildings
The building below is the Guildhall and is still in use.

Much Wenlock Buildings
There’s quite a variety of styles around though.
Buildings in Much Wenlock

The village has been used in a few film locations, including the John Cleese film Clockwise.
Much Wenlock Buildings

It would be nice to visit Much Wenlock when it’s actually open, so if we’re ever in that area again we’ll definitely go back.
Much Wenlock Buildings

It has quite an interesting history which you can read about here.

Ironbridge, Shropshire, England

When I realised that we would be staying quite close to Ironbridge during our recent visit to England and Wales that went on our list of places to see. I’ve often seen the bridge on TV and it always looks beautiful. We drove into the small town and managed to park quite close to the shops (it was a Sunday) but we had only walked a few yards before we realised that the big plastic structure spanning the river was the actual bridge, swathed in scaffolding and plastic. What a disappointment, but not totally unexpected as we have a history of inadvertently visiting iconic locations when they’re being refurbished, including Chatsworth, the entire front of which was hidden.

Iron Bridge at Ironbridge

Anyway, we walked across the iron bridge as it’s not actually closed off, in fact it was very busy. Peering down at the River Severn was a strange experience. Any photographs I’ve seen of the bridge show a beautiful reflection of it in the water, but the river wasn’t looking its best. Mind you, having said that I can actually see reflections of some buildings in that photo, despite the sludginess of the water, so maybe it’s always like that.

I love rivers and bridges but I’m beginning to wonder if it’s just Scottish rivers that I love. They’re always lovely and clean and they rush and tumble towards their destination – sea or loch, in a mad dash to get there and making a joyous sound.

I don’t know if the area surrounding the River Severn had had heavy rain and storms just before we went there, maybe the character of that river’s water is always murky and slow moving, it looked like a brown sludge, with strange circular swirls on the surface. Colour wise it resembled a river of melted Galaxy chocolate, like something out of Charlie and the Chocolate factory, but it was somehow diabolically dangerous looking too.

Anyway, our trip there wasn’t a complete dead loss as despite it being a Sunday there were quite a lot of shops open, and one of them was a good secondhand bookshop. That was where I got the two Agatha Christie paperbacks I blogged about earlier. On the way out of the shop I caught a glimpse of a book called The Story of Scotland by F. Fraser Darling and realised that I already had one in this particular book series, they were published by William Collins in 1941, 1942 and 1943. They only have 47 pages in them but they’re really nicely illustrated with interesting prints and drawings. I also bought British Ports and Harbours by Leo Walmsley, I love its cover design. English Villages by Edmund Blunden is the book that I already had at home. These books are really lovely and it amazes me that they only cost me £3 each. It seems to be the price that booksellers ask for them no matter where you are in Britain, they’re underrated I reckon, but maybe I shouldn’t say that!

William Collins Books