Classics Club Spin #28

It’s Classics Club Spin time again, number 28 and as I’m coming to the end of my list I have to put the same books at different numbers. I’ll have to read whichever number is chosen in the spin – by the 12th of December and the number will be chosen on the 17th of October.spin

1. Kenilworth by Sir Walter Scott
2. End of the Chapter by John Galsworthy
3. The Trial by Franz Kafka
4. The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson
5. The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope
6. Kenilworth by Sir Walter Scott
7. End of the Chapter by John Galsworthy
8. The Trial by Franz Kafka
9. The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope
10. Kenilworth by Sir Walter Scott
11. The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson
12. End of the Chapter by John Galsworthy
13. The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson
14. The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope
15. The Trial by Franz Kafka
16. End of the Chapter by John Galsworthy
17. The Trial by Franz Kafka
18. The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson
19. The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope
20. Kenilworth by Sir Walter Scott

It’s ages since I read anything by Anthony Trollope, don’t ask me why because I really love his writing so I should have polished the one on this list ages ago, anyway, I hope I get his The Way We Live Now in the spin. Are any of your favourites on my list?

the 1976 Club

It’s the 1976 Club which is hosted by Simon of Stuck in a Book and Karen at Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings.

For me 1976 has been a bit of a slim year reading wise, since blogging it seems that I’ve only read two from that year:

A Stitch in Time by Penelope Lively

Touch Not the Cat by Mary Stewart

I enjoyed both of those ones a lot. This week I’m reading a couple of short books by Ursula Le Guin, novellas really, A Very Long Way from Anywhere Else and The Word For World is Forest. These ones are both from Jack’s Le Guin collection, most of which are SF of course but the first one I mention isn’t SF.

I must admit that 1976 has seemed like a fairly bad year for publishing. I can’t say that I noticed at the time, I did work in a large public library back then, but it was also the year that I got married, yes I am fairly ancient, but I was a child bride!

The Escape of the King by Jane Lane

The Escape of the King cover

The Escape of the King by Jane Lane was first published in 1954. I read some of her historical fiction back in the 1970s, but hadn’t read any which were aimed at children as this wee one is. It’s a quick but fairly entertaining read at just 156 pages. Jane Lane started writing books for children when her young son asked her to tell him stories from history.

In The Escape of the King she fills in the gaps between the known history of King Charles II’s flight after his army was defeated at the Battle of Worcester when the much larger rebel army of Oliver Cromwell’s Roundheads trounced the Royalist Cavalier army. Apparently all the events in this book are true and the characters are real. Jane Lane says that she just invented the conversations thoughts and feelings of the people involved.

All the Roundheads are looking for Charles, and when a £1,000 reward is put up for Charles alive or dead it seems like his escape from Worcester is an unlikely prospect, but well disguised as Will Jones – a peasant – and walking by night from safe house to safe house, when necessary hiding in holes that had previously been used by Catholic priests in houses owned by people who had been sticking to the ‘old religion’. He had some very close calls but of course did manage to reach the coast and hitch a ride on a ship to France and safety.

I must admit that I only recently realised that I had imagined his escape wrongly, as in that well-known part of the story when Charles II hid in a tree to avoid capture, I had assumed that it was a hollow tree he was in as it was supposed to be an oak tree, and they can be hollow. Now of course I realise that he was hiding up a tree, within the branches! It’s a mystery to me why teachers always said he was in a tree. In fact I’m sure I even asked a teacher about that at the time and she was the one who thought it might have been a hollow oak – oh well – you live and learn!

The Gourlay Girls by Margaret Thomson Davis

The Gourlay Girls  cover

The Gourlay Girls by the Scottish author Margaret Thomson Davis is the second book in her Clydesiders trilogy which was first published in 2000. The setting is Glasgow and it begins with young Wincey witnessing her grandfather’s death. She’s so shocked by it that she runs out of the house and wanders into a neighbourhood that she doesn’t know. She’s soaking wet and bewildered by the time young Florence Gourlay finds her in the street and takes pity on her and so takes Wincey to her own home where she knows her mother will feed her and sort things out.

The Gourlays live a hand to mouth existence in a two room tenement with three generations, the old Gaanny is a ‘greetin faced’ curmudgeon if ever there was one. Her son the father of the family is out of work like most of the men in the area. It’s the 1930s and work is scarce, so the Gourlay females, the mother and three daughters of the family have been taking in sewing to keep starvation at bay, but one more mouth to feed in the shape of Wincey doesn’t seem to be a problem for the motherly Teresa Gourlay.

Wincey’s own family is wealthy and from Glasgow’s west end, so the poverty stricken east end of Glasgow is a revelation to her, but it isn’t long before Wincey feels well-loved and cherished in her new family. That’s something that she never felt within her own family. A sense of shame and guilt over not helping her grandfather when he was dying leads Wincey to opt to stay with the Gourlays instead of making her way back home, the longer she stays missing the harder it is to go back home.

Margaret Thomson Davis could be described as the Scottish version of Catherine Cookson I think. She tells a good story, but isn’t the best writer. Although I enjoyed this book it annoyed me that the author hadn’t managed to write separate voices for all the females, with Teresa the mother’s voice being particularly anonymous, which is surprising as she was supposed to come from the Highlands originally, there was no sense of a Highland accent or dialect.

Otherwise I enjoyed it. The tale begins in 1932 and goes on to the outbreak of World War 2 and with the help of Wincey the Gourlays’ little business has expanded hugely, but that brings problems too.

I’ll definitely continue with this trilogy, the third book is Clydesiders at War.

The Italian Garden, Glamis Castle, Angus, Scotland

There are lots of woodland areas to walk around within the grounds of Glamis Castle, but there’s also a walled Italian garden. I love walled gardens, apart from the fact that the high walls protect the plants from the worst of the winter weather, they always feel so private and safe. Below is a view of the entrance to the garden.

Italian Garden entrance, Glamis Castle, Angus, Scotland

Glamis Castle from the walled Italian Garden.

Glamis Castle from Italian Garden

Despite the fact that it was late September there was still plenty of interest in the garden, and quite a bit of colour.

Glamis Castle, Italian Garden , Angus, Scotland

Glamis Castle, Italian Garden, Angus, Scotland

Italian Garden, Glamis Castle, Angus, Scotland

There is of course a fabulous backdrop of mature conifers in the shape of the arboretum.

Italian Garden, Glamis Castle, Angus, Scotland
I’m truly glad that I don’t have the job of trimming all those hedges, they do look great though.

Italian Garden,Glamis Castle, Angus, Scotland
I believe the purple flowers are verbena. I did have one such plant in my garden but sadly it gave up after a few years so I presume they don’t like clay soil.
Italian Garden , Glamis Castle, Angus, Scotland

Italian Garden, Glamis Castle, Angus, Scotland

You can read more about Glamis Castle gardens here. The whole place is definitely worth a visit if you are in the area.

Glamis Castle, Angus, Scotland

Here we are back at Glamis Castle, the inside of it this time, below is a photo of part of the sitting room which the Queen Mother used when she visited her childhood home, apparently it has been kept as it was when King George VI was alive and she visited with him and her daughters. You can see my earlier post of the outside of the castle here.

Queen Mum's room, Glamis Castle, Ahgus, Scotland

The two wee chairs in front of the fireplace were used by the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret when they were wee. It feels quite homely really.

Fireplace, Glamis Castle, Angus. Scotland

Below is the dining-room with its unusual ceiling.

Dining room, Glamis Castle, Angus, Scotland

Dining room ceiling, Glamis Castle, Angus, Scotland

And the even more unusually positioned lion and unicorn stained glass windows high up in the walls.

Stained Glass, Glamis Castle, Angus, Scotland

Fabulous table centrepieces.

Dining room centrepiece, Glamis Castle, Angus, Scotland

The rather grand drawing room with the photo of the current Earl and Countess of Strathmore on the small table, in contrast to all the paintings of ancestors on the walls.

Drawing room, Glamis Castle, Angus, Scotland

With a ceiling more akin to the icing on a wedding cake.

Glamis Castle, Drawing room ceiling

And more small chairs by the fireplace, at least the children in this castle were warm it would seem!

Drawing room ,small chairs, Glamis Castle

The chapel below has a very unusual ceiling which consists of painted panels. Originally this would have been a chapel for the Celtic church I think but over the years it will have been Roman Catholic but now it is ‘ High’ Scottish Episcopal I believe, which is very similar in looks to Catholic. You can read more about the castle here.

Glamis Castle Chapel, Angus, Scotland

It’s a beautiful castle – fit for a queen as you can see. We had a lovely walk around the grounds after touring the castle, next time I’ll blog about the Italian Gardens.

The Adventures of Miss Barbara Pym by Paula Byrne

The Adventures of Miss Barbara Pym  cover

I read most of Barbara Pym’s books back in the 1970s and enjoyed them, so when via NetGalley I was offered the chance to read The Adventures of Miss Barbara Pym by Paula Byrne I was keen to do so. Not for the first time though where authors are concerned I wished I hadn’t because I found Pym to be quite unlikeable. Paula Byrne has written the book using Pym’s diaries, but as Pym had obviously intended that they would end up in some sort of archive and had an eye on her posterity I can’t help wondering how honest the diary is. Also lots of pages had been torn out, Byrne assumed that those pages were seen as being too revealing on reflection and assumed they were about her sexual exploits – and for those days she was certainly adventurous it seems. She was no virginal spinster, which is fair enough although unusual as at a time when the male students and dons at Oxford had to resort to prostitutes in Oxford or further afield in London, as most women were terrified of getting pregnant. Barbara Pym was literally stalking men that she fancied and falling into bed with them. Some have taken this trait of hers as proof that she was a woman before her time. If you see being a modern woman as being a victim of philandering, arrogant and self-centred men then she was indeed a woman before her time, I think she was just incredibly immature and niave. It would seem that she never got beyond the obsessive crush stage that was so common among the young girls who were starved of male company at the boarding school she attended. She also adopted alternative personas. I can just imagine all those misogynistic dons at Oxford rolling their eyes and commenting to each other that they knew it would be like this when women students were accepted!

In 1934 she went to Germany and became besotted with Hitler, stalking him and frequenting the restaurant she knew he used. Of course she ended up falling for a Nazi close to Hitler, Friedbert Gluck was an SS officer. On her return to the Oxford village she was living in she saluted the local shopkeeper with a Heil Hitler while wearing a black shirt and presumably the swastika pin her Nazi boyfriend had given her. Truly the locals must have wondered whether to laugh or cry. It was only after the outbreak of WW2 that she thought she might have been wrong about the Nazis but she was still hankering after Friedbert. She even had to be advised to expunge the Nazi/German bits in one of her books before sending it to a publisher. She definitely lacked a moral compass!

Sadly she never matured and was still falling for completely unsuitable men in her old age, an almost forty year age gap didn’t seem to bother her. The poor lad! Never much of a looker she was described as looking like Joyce Grenfell (comedienne) but she had a thing for tall, dark handsome men who went on to marry someone else, or else were homosexual. During the war she was living in a shared house with another woman and her two children, the woman was described as her best friend, but when that friend’s philandering husband came to visit his family it didn’t stop Pym from falling into bed with him instead of leaving him to his wife and children. Her poor so-called friend must have thought – et tu Barbara! But of course when he did get a divorce from his wife, he married another woman.

So it would seem that Barbara Pym had no conscience whatsoever when it came to men, sex and Nazism and was a nightmare neighbour as she spied on them to use them as characters in her books, even stalking them when they left their house. Whatever happened to using your imagination?!

Strangely there’s no mention of fear of getting pregnant in this book, that was what stopped most women from sleeping around back then. Pym’s father was the illegitimate result of a seduction between a 16 year old ‘young master’ and a 19 year old housemaid, his mother. Barbara knew about that as her father was quite proud of being a by-blow of a wealthier family. Possibly she thought that if she did get pregnant then it would lead to marriage.

I read most of Pym’s books back in the 1970s and had a re-read of a few of them a decade or so ago and didn’t enjoy them as much as I had when I was younger, although there is some witty dialogue, but it would seem that she was really just recounting things she had overheard people saying.

Im later years Barbara Pym lived in fear of her younger sister Hilary re-marrying as they were living together, and Hilary was really supporting Barbara who earned very little money. There’s a lot more in this book but not much of it is admirable, you’ll have gathered that I was less than impressed by her adventures.

I’ve always wondered about the authors that weren’t championed so vociferously and publicly on TV by Lord David Cecil and Philip Larkin, which is what kick-started her writing career when it was floundering. It’s handy having friends in high places!

Glamis Castle, Angus, Scotland

Glamis Castle stitch, Angus, Scotland

At last we got around to visiting Glamis Castle which was the family home of the Queen Mother. It’s still owned by the Strathmore family, they’ve been there since the 1300s. We tried to visit the castle years ago but by the time we got there it was too late go around the castle and as we walked along the driveway we were walking against a tide of people who were leaving. This time around there were very few people there which was good as when we toured the interior we had all of the rooms to ourselves as by the time someone else was entering – we were exiting. Sadly it was a bit of a grey day when we were there this time around but it didn’t detract too much from the castle, I think it looks like an illustration from a fairy tale, which is quite apt since the yougest daughter of the family ended up marrying a prince, then went on to become a queen. The castle’s name is pronounced ‘glams’.

If you’re interested in the history of the castle have a look at the timeline here. The castle has links with Macbeth and Shakespeare.

The yew hedge lined driveway below is not the main driveway, that one is flanked by fields, but we drove down it this time so I didn’t take any photos, and the last time we were there it was full of people. You might want to look at my previous post which I’m amazed to see was written nine years ago!

Glamis Castle,from east, Angus, Scotland

The view below is of the castle from the right hand side as you look at it. Sadly the old stone fountain isn’t working.

Glamis Castle and masonry, Angus, Scotland

I’ll show you the interior and also the lovely Italian garden sometime soon.

Are We Having Fun Yet? by Lucy Mangan

Are We Having Fun Yet? cover

Are We Having Fun Yet by Lucy Mangan has its moments although at the beginning it reminded me far too much of the BBC TV programme Motherhood, without the diverse group of mothers that feature in that so comically. Liz and Richard are I suppose upper middle class – as is everyone else featured, it feels very autobiographical and to be fair anyone who has had children will recognise many of the situations as Liz struggles to deal with domestic angst, her two young children, and a husband who is somewhat semi-detached and in a world of his own.

As ever with this sort of writing it’s the children who are the stars and provide a lot of the humour. As a reader of Lucy Mangan’s articles since she began writing in the Guardian I had trouble separating her personality with that of Liz as it is so similar to her columns.

I found it annoying that Liz is so frazzled by childcare when she has very supportive parents living half an hour away, and that Liz (Lucy) describes herself as being ‘northern’ despite being brought up in the south of England. Having northern parents doesn’t count, where you went to school does!

Having loved Mangan’s Bookworm I found this one to be a bit disappointing and predictable but I suspect that as a granny and an actual ‘northern’ person, if you count Scotland as the north – but so many people don’t – I’m not the target audience.

I received a digital copy of the book via NetGalley. Thank you.

The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

 Ballet Shoes cover

The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett was first published in 1929. I loved this one although I must admit that I love the film even more, it’s the Humphrey Bogart aspect of course, he’s brilliant as Sam Spade. I suspect that everyone knows the tale.

Miss Wonderly (tall and pliantly slender without angularity anywhere) visits the office that Sam Spade shares with his partner Miles Archer. She wants Spade to track down Floyd Thursby, the man who has run off with her younger sister. Archer gets the job of tailing Thursby. It doesn’t end well for either of them.

I love Hammett’s writing style. He puts so much detail in, every movement is mapped. His books must have been a dream to adapt to film. You can see the original film trailer below.