Winter garden and trees

Winter garden 2

As you can see the snow is back, luckily it has been coming and going, just hanging around for a couple of days and returning after a few weeks, I can cope with that – and so can the garden.

Winter garden 1

Just a couple of days after this lot melted I was able to get out there and plant some spring bulbs. I’m itching for the spring to come – as usual I have so many garden projects I want to get stuck into, a garden is never finished, and I have to move a tree or two to make way for – more exciting trees. But as I type the snow is back, mustn’t grumble though as it is January after all.

Winter garden 8

The trees in the photo above though – I get for free as they’re the woodland just beyond my back garden. My favourite is the larch which is just left of centre, but I love them all.

Winter garden 9

There are two birds flying in the centre of the photo above, I think they might just be magpies but they may be buzzards, we get a lot of birds of prey around here.

As a bit of a tree-hugger I was interested in watching a recent BBC programme about Judi Dench and her love for trees, she has a six acre garden which is mainly woodland and commemorates deceased family and friends by planting trees in memory of them, such a lovely thing to do. If you get a chance to you should watch Passion for Trees, there’s a wee taster of it below.

Long Summer Day by R.F. Delderfield

Long Summer Day cover

Long Summer Day by R.F. Delderfield was first published in 1966 and it’s the first book in his A Horseman Riding By trilogy. It’s a good read, I’ll probably give it four stars on Goodreads.

It begins in 1901 and ends in 1911. At the beginning Paul has been invalided out of the army, he was in the cavalry and had been fighting in the Boer War, a bullet wound to his knee had ended all that. The end of his army career has come at more or less the same time as the death of his father which means that he has inherited a half share in a very lucrative scrap metal business. The war had made it even more successful than it had been, but Paul isn’t at all interested in the business and is happy to leave the running of it to his ‘uncle’ Franz, his father’s business partner.

Paul knows that he wants to live an outdoor life and despite having no experience of it he’s drawn to farming. When a large estate is advertised for sale he goes to view it and falls in love with the place. The locals make up a great cast of quirky characters and I can see that this series is going to be an enjoyable journey through British social history. I’m presuming that the next two books will be dealing with the two World Wars that changed society so much.

This one was on my new Classics Club list – another one bites the dust.

The Cotswolds – a jigsaw puzzle

The Cotswolds jigsaw puzzle

I think I can safely say that I won’t be doing any more jigsaw puzzles this winter, this one of a British Railway Cotswolds poster has cured me of my passion for them – for now anyway.

I truly almost gave up as it was fiendishly difficult, I know it doesn’t look like it would be from the photo of it, but it was so hard that it took most of the enjoyment out of it for me.

Even when we did get to the stage of only having about 30 or so pieces left to fit in, we realised that some of it must be wrong. I must admit that it was Jack who had the patience to go over it with a magnifier and find the wrongly placed pieces. A nightmare!

The Benefactress by Elizabeth von Arnim

The Benefactress cover

This last week has been Elizabeth von Arnim week on Facebook’s Undervalued British Women Novelists 1930-1960 group, which is the only reason I’m on FB really, well that and the Golden Age Detection group. I read Expiation and The Benefactress, both first time reads for me.

The Benefactress by Elizabeth von Arnim was first published in 1901 and it’s very much of its time, so quite different from The Enchanted April (1922) which I think is many women’s favourite.

Both of Anna’s parents are dead and at 18 she was taken in by her brother and his wife Susie. Susie is determined to get Anna married off well and begins to spend money on her on clothes and taking her around everywhere eligible men are found. Although Anna and her brother come from an aristocratic family they’re not rich, the money is all Susie’s and she is forever talking about it. Susie’s family comes from Birmingham which means they are trade – something that the snobs of the local society won’t forgive, she’s always being snubbed.

Seven years on Anna is sick fed up with being taken around in search of a husband, she has refused many offers because she isn’t in love with them. In protest Anna has taken to looking as plain as she can – the upshot of that is that she gets marriage offers from clergymen. Her salvation comes when an old uncle from the German side of her family dies and leaves her a small estate, but it’s in a remote area of northern Germany.

Travelling there with Susie and her daughter Letty it turns out to be an old, cold and run down house with unhelpful servants. Susie leaves shortly after getting there, leaving her young daughter behind for a holiday. Anna falls in love with the place and sets to brightening everything up but after having been miserable when she was dependent on Susie for money she decides that it would wonderful if she could share her good luck and happiness with twelve gentlewomen who are now in difficult circumstances money-wise.

That’s when all her troubles begin because of course it often doesn’t take long before people who are the recipients of charity develop a disagreeable outlook towards the person that they should feel grateful towards, such is human nature. The first three women to take up residence include two ‘vons’ a sign of German aristocracy. They despise each other and only agree over their attitude to Anna. There must be some nasty reason for her charitable actions, they decide that she must have been a society outcast, it’s implied that they think that Letty is her daughter. The baroness owed Anna everything – “and what more natural then, to dislike her? The rarest of loves is the love of a debtor for his creditor.”

Anna realises that she has made a mistake, but worse is to follow. Letty has decided to meddle in her aunt’s love life which leads to a lot of trouble for which she does get her come-uppance with the loss of her most attractive feature.

Although this isn’t my favourite and indeed near the end it did veer towards being disastrous in a Thomas Hardy sort of way, there are also quite a lot of moments of humour, as ever von Arnim is such a good observer of human nature, especially between men and women and more particularly husbands and wives. Worth reading.

Blast from the Past – Beveridge Park Kirkcaldy Postcards –

Beveridge Park in Kirkcaldy is a lovely park which was designed and built in Victorian times. They usually involve a lot of land and land being so expensive nowadays they’re a thing of the past, but apparently if you live near one it makes your home much more desirable. We used to live a two minute walk from this one so whenever I came across old postcards of Beveridge Park I snapped them up for my album. This blogpost will probably only be of interest to Langtouners – natives of Kirkcaldy in Fife, or people who know and love the park.

Beveridge Park Gates, Kirkcaldy

The postcard below is of the long gone bandstand, it’s such a shame that most of these elegant bandstands were ripped down, mainly in the 1960s and 70s I think. Possibly some were demolished during the World War 2 scavenge for metal for the war effort.

Beveridge Park bandstand

The next postcard is of what we have always called the duck pond, but I see that it is described as ‘the lake’ on the postcard, it hasn’t changed much.

Beveridge Park, Kirkcaldy

The following one shows the original layout of the formal part of the park.

Beveridge Park, Kirkcaldy

This last postcard is the only one which has actually been postally used and it bears a postmark – May 12 08. So it’s 110 years old. The bottom part of the photo looks very different nowadays because there are enormous trees there now.

Beveridge Park in Kirkcaldy, Fife

Guardian bookish links

It’s ages since I did a post on Guardian Review links, that’s not because there were no interesting links, I just didn’t get around to them, anyway here goes:

In last Saturday’s Review I enjoyed reading Acquired tastes – an article about food which was inspired by the writer discovering that Dorothy Wordsworth had eaten black pudding.

There’s a new book out about Mary Shelley by Fiona Sampson, you can read a review of it here.

You might be interested in A Lab of One’s Own: Science and Suffrage in the First World War by Patricia Fara.

From The Independent – As a tribute to his father David Bowie Duncan Jones has launched an online book club featuring his father’s favourite books David Bowie Book Club The first book to be read is Peter Ackroyd’s Hawksmoor. If you’re interested you can see Bowie’s 100 favourite books here.

Expiation by Elizabeth von Arnim

Expiation cover

Expiation by Elizabeth von Arnim was first published in 1929. The story begins with Milly Bott’s in-laws being desperately worried about her. Milly’s husband Ernest has just been killed in an accident and Milly seems stunned. She had married into the Botts family – a rather snooty one – and they are very much aware of their standing in the community, see themselves as being the creme de la creme of society. Milly has been a favourite, she’s childless and has spent her life moulding her personality to fit in with everyone else. She just agrees with them for an easy life but that has taken a toll on her.

From the outside it looks like she had a charmed life with a wealthy husband but he was a difficult man and the marriage was a failure. He had made Milly cut off contact with her only sister because she had eloped and had lived with her husband for three weeks before the marriage. The Botts couldn’t have anything to do with something so scandalous. Milly secretly writes letters to her sister who has settled in Switzerland with her Swiss husband.

Unknown to everyone Milly had been having an affair for over twelve years, so she feels she shouldn’t be receiving all the concern and condolences from people. But she gets a shock when her husband’s will is read out.

It seems that he had changed his will the previous year and Milly realises it must have been because he had discovered she was having an affair. The details of the will make it plain, he has willed most of his money to a home for fallen women. Milly gets only £1,000 from him and is left homeless. Realising that the Botts are unlikely to want to harbour their unfaithful sister-in-law, not that she wants to live with any of them, Milly decides that her best bet will be to travel to Switzerland to live with her sister who according to her letters is living a wonderful life as the owner of a popular and successful hotel. It turns out that she has been economical with the truth.

Nothing is as Milly expected it to be. After having led a life of luxury and comfort she’s thrown into a world of penury and even hunger.

I don’t want to say too much more about the book except that you should read it as it’s really good despite featuring a very unlikely coincidence. Milly is trying to make amends for being unfaithful but she really only develops a guilty conscience about it after her disagreeable husband is dead. For me there wasn’t a lot of humour in this one, except maybe when the sisters-in-law start speculating about who Milly’s lover was – was it one of the husbands?! In parts it’s quite heartbreaking for Milly who has to pay dearly for her occasional bouts of happiness over the years.

I don’t know a great deal about Elizabeth von Arnim’s life but I feel that her later books don’t have as much humour in them, I suspect that she was one of those women who didn’t cope well with her ageing process.

Luckily I have a nice old copy of Expiation but I’m now reading The Benefactress which I’ve downloaded from Project Gutenberg.

New Classics Club list

At last I’ve got around to compiling my new list of 50 classic books to work my way through for the Classics Club. I completed my original list – and then some – a wee while ago, I think I got to 68 when I decided it was probably time I counted how many classics I had read, but the original list of 50 is here if you’re interested.

My new list is of mainly quite old books, I’m quite strict about what I regard as a classic and almost all of these books are ones that I’ve had in the house for donkey’s years awaiting their turn for a moment in the limelight by actually being read.

I’ve already read and reviewed a couple of them, I got Down and Out in Paris and London in spin number 16.

1. The American Senator by Anthony Trollope
2. Nana by Emile Zola
3. The Bride of Lammermoor by Sir Walter Scott
4. Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell
5. Kenilworth by Sir Walter Scott
6. The Broken Road by Patrick Leigh Fermor
7. Montaigne
8. Summer Half by Angela Thirkell
9. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
10. Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Laclos
11. Freckles by Gene Stratton Porter
12. High Wages by Dorothy Whipple
13. The Disorderly Knights by Dorothy Dunnett
14. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
15. Orkneyinga Saga
16. The Children Who Lived in a Barn by Eleanor Graham
17. A Scream in Soho by John G. Brandon
18. The Town in Bloom by Dodie Smith
19. Hungry Hill by Daphne du Maurier
20. The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson
21. Expiation by Elizabeth von Arnim
22. The Benefactress by Elizabeth von Arnim
23. The Earth by Emile Zola
24. Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi
25. The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope
26. The House in Norham Gardens by Penelope Lively
27. The Corn King and the Spring Queen by Naomi Mitchison
28. Miss Marjoribanks by Margaret Oliphant
29. Salem Chapel by Margaret Oliphant
30. Doctor Dolittle and the Green Parrot by Hugh Lofting
31. If This Is a Man Primo Levi
32. End of the Chapter by John Galsworthy
33. The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights by John Steinbeck
33. Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck
34. The Pearl by John Steinbeck
35. The Trial by Franz Kafka
36. Maurice by E.M. Forster
37. The White Guard by Mikhail Bulgakov
34. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
35. Long Summer Day by R.F. Delderfield
36. Post of Honour by R.F. Delderfield
37. The Green Gauntlet by R.F. Delderfield
38. The Oaken Heart by Margery Allingham
39. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown
40. The Soul of Kindness by Elizabeth Taylor
41. Britannia Mews by Margery Sharp
42. Rider of the White Horse by Rosemary Sutcliff
43. The Mark of the Horse Lord by Rosemary Sutcliff
44. Sing For Your Supper by Pamela Frankau
45. The Tempest by Shakespeare
46. An Infamous Army by Georgette Heyer
47. Angel Pavement by J.B. Priestley
48. Pawn in Frankincense by Dorothy Dunnett
49. The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Spark
50. Loitering with Intent by Muriel Spark

I’ve managed to get a nice split of 25 books by female authors and 25 by male authors, if I’ve counted correctly, and 10 of them are Scottish authors. Towards the end I cheated a bit (to my mind anyway) and added authors that I wouldn’t normally think of as being classic authors as they’re a bit modern-ish in my eyes. A few of the books are children’s classics.

What do you think of my list? Have you read any of them?

Hill House at Helensburgh in the west of Scotland

In October 2017 we found ourselves running around all over the place, from Norway to Lancashire, but the photos below are from Hill House in Helensburgh, much closer to home, well what was home when I was growing up, the west of Scotland. Hill House was designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh and he was incredibly lucky to be commissioned to design not only the house but everything inside it too, very rare for an architect I think. It’s only recently that The National Trust for Scotland has allowed visitors to take photographs of the interior. The house was built between 1902 and 1904.

Mackintosh was keen on light and dark so a lot of the woodwork is black, but really that serves to be a wonderful contrast to the beautiful cream coloured rooms. It was practical too I think as the hall and stairs are dark, places that would have been quite difficult to keep looking absolutely pristine, especially as this was designed as a family home – for the Scottish publisher Walter Blackie. If you have some old Blackie books the binding will almost certainly have been designed by Mackintosh.

The photo below is of a small hall table as you can see the design is arts and crafts. His designs are a mixture of arts and crafts, art nouveau and Japanese.

Hill House Hall table at Helensburgh

A very dark stairwell entrance below, unfortunately very difficult to photograph becaus eof the wall light.

stairwell entrance

The drawing room below has a handy niche for the baby grand and as you can see the room is nice and bright.

Drawing room 1

Below is another view of the drawing room.

Drawing room

And another view of the drawing room. Mackintosh and his wife Margaret Macdonald worked as a team on this project with Margaret designing and making some of the art works and soft furnishings.
Drawing room 3

She embroidered the settee backs which are still in reasonable condition considering how old they are now.
Drawing room 4

Drawing room 7

I have plenty more photos but they can wait for another blogpost. Sadly Mackintosh used Portland cement on the exterior of the building, it was a ‘new wonder product’ according to the manufacturers. But in the damp climate of the west of Scotland it was a disastrous choice as it drew the moisture into the fabric of the building causing lots of problems. Now they are even thinking about building a huge glass structure over the whole house to try to preserve it. Desperate measures!

The Distant Echo by Val McDermid

The Distant Echo cover

Strictly speaking I read most of this book in 2017, but it’s the first one I’ve finished in 2018.

The Distant Echo by Val McDermid is the first in her Karen Pirie series, but she doesn’t turn up in this book until nearer the end of it when she’s been given the task of investigating a cold case going back 25 years or so to 1978.

The action begins in St Andrews, Fife, around the Christmas holidays where four male students are out celebrating at a local pub. It’s freezing and snowy and on the way home they stumble across a woman who is breathing her last in the snow. She has been stabbed and there’s blood everywhere.

The local police seem determined to pin the murder on the students who are almost locals and are known as ‘the lads fi’ Kirkcaldy’, another town in Fife about 20 miles from St Andrews. The ‘gentlemen’ of the press are quick to be judge and jury, so suddenly the four witnesses are suspects and everyone is turning against them.

The action moves on to 25 years later when the ‘lads’ have settled in their various occupations, but the past catches up with them unexpectedly and the nightmare begins again.

This is the first book by McDermid that I’ve read, apart from her Jane Austen re-write of Northanger Abbey. I was quite surprised by it, mainly because I had it in my mind that her writing would be a bit more cerebral – silly of me really as probably if it was then her books wouldn’t sell as well as they do.

I found this book to be just an okay read, I’ll probably give it three stars on Goodreads, but I suspect that most of my interest in it depended on me living close to all the locations and knowing the areas involved so well. McDermid even mentions a woman that I knew when I lived in Kirkaldy and she has her characters walking around so many of the local roads where I lived until recently.

I really had to suspend my disbelief towards the end of the book and I don’t think it’s fair when an author withholds information from the reader in the way that McDermid did – but maybe that’s just me being picky.

I’ll probably give the next one in the series a go to see if the Karen Pirie character grows on me, but so far McDermid has been a bit of a disappointment.