My garden, Fife, Scotland

Whenever it has been a bit drier (not often) I’ve gone out to take some photos of what’s flowering in my garden. Thankfully the primroses, primula, cowslips are always colourful and happily seed themselves around.

primroses, primulas, garden

I tried to take a close up of the white snake’s head fritillary below with my phone, but I was just too close, if you look closely there’s a purple one which is closer to being ‘over’, to the left of the white flower’s stalk. These are also happy to multiply in any damp areas, and let’s face it, the whole garden is damp after the constant rain, there’s more moss than anything else.

fritillary, my garden

More purple fritillaries at various stages of flowering. Sadly only one white flower has come up this year. Charles Rennie Mackintosh did a lovely painting of this type of fritillary, the chequerboard markings on the flower really suited his designs. The actual  flowers look like they have been painted in reality.

snake's head fritillary, my garden

I have no idea what these daffodils below are, possibly Paperwhite. I planted the bulbs ages ago in a pretty bowl, planning to give them away at Christmas, but by then nothing much was happening to them. They were supposed to be a miniature variety, but eventually they just grew and grew, then flopped all over the place with not much sign of ever flowering. I dug a home for them in the garden and they flowered as normal in the spring. Definitely not miniature, which thinking about it I should have realised because the bulbs weren’t small. I think that some plant nurseries must be quite chaotic because plants and bulbs are often wrongly named. Anyway, hopefully these ones will flower again next year, if all the rain doesn’t rot the bulbs!

daffodils, my garden

The first tulips are appearing, but I’m sure I planted more than these ones below in that area.

flowers, my garden

The pulmonaria/lungwort with its spotted leaves below is always one of the first to flower, after the snowdrops, and it goes on for quite a long time, I think that’s why it’s one of my favourites. It was used as a cure  for lung problems in days gone by, but I don’t think it was very effective.

pulmonaria, lungwor, my garden

I was watching Gardeners’ World on TV tonight and a tulip expert was explaining what you should do to tulips after they have flowered. Dig them up after feeding them, clean them, dry them and plant again next year. I’ve always just left them to get on with it on their own underground, maybe if I gave them some tlc they would respond better, they usually die out with me. I’m not planting them deep enough either, at least four inches apparently.

tulips, my garden

Anyway, that’s some of the flowers that are blooming in my garden in Fife, it has been a long wet summer, autumn and winter. It’s amazing how resilient plants can be. I don’t think any of my shrubs have actually died, and I know that other gardeners haven’t been as lucky.

Someone from the Past by Margot Bennett

Someone from the Past by Margot Bennett was first published in 1958 but it was reprinted by  British Library in 2023. This book won the Crime Writers’ Association’s Award for the best crime novel of 1958, but it was the last crime novel that the Scottish author Margot Bennett wrote. The setting is mainly London.

Nancy had been enjoying a night out with Donald, it seems to be a special date, they’ve been on the champagne and all seems well, but they are interrupted by Sarah, a one time work colleague of Nancy’s, but Sarah had been somewhat closer to Donald in the past, he’s not enamoured with her at all now.

But Nancy agrees to help Sarah who has been receiving anonymous letters, threatening her death, the threat seems to come from a man in her past – but there have been so many of them. Before Nancy can do anything to help, Sarah is found dead and a bad decision by Nancy means that she is a suspect. It’s all a bit of a nightmare.

The blurb says: As the real killer uses the situation to their advantage, Bennett crafts a nuanced story through flashbacks to Sarah’s life and loves.

This is a good read although my favourite era for crime novels is the 1930s and 40s, don’t ask me why, they just seem more atmospheric.

 

 

 

 

 

The 1937 Week – previous reads

It turns out that I had already read a lot of books which were published in 1937, in fact I’m struggling to find something to read for The 1937 Week which is hosted by Simon @ Stuck in a Book and Karen @ Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings.

The week of reading books which were printed in 1937 begins on Monday, but the links below are to my previous reads from that year. It’s quite an eclectic bunch, ranging from one for young children – Elsie Piddock – to The Road to Wigan Pier.

The Red Pony by John Steinbeck

Wolf Among Wolves by Hans Fallada

The Hand in the Glove by Rex Stout

The Mystery in White by J. Jefferson Farjeon

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

Lady Rose and Mrs Memmary by Ruby Ferguson

The Cheltenham Square Murder by John Bude

Rosabelle Shaw by D.E. Stevenson

The Song of the Lark by Willa Cather

An Infamous Army by Georgette Heyer

Summer Half by Angela Thirkell

Elsie Piddock Skips in Her Sleep by Eleanor Farjeon

Dimsie Intervenes by Dorita Fairlie Bruce

We Didn’t Mean to go to Sea by Arthur Ransome

The Road to Wigan Pier by George Orwell

 

Green Willow’s Secret by Eileen Dunlop

Green Willow’s Secret by the Scottish author Eileen Dunlop was published in 1993. This book is meant for YA readers but is enjoyable to people of all ages I’m sure.

Kit had lived in Edinburgh with her parents and older sister, but a family tragedy has led to the father travelling to Australia and Kit and her mother moving to Maddimoss, a rural area. Kit isn’t settling in well and when her teacher tells the class about a Japanese exhibition she has been to the other pupils tell her that there’s a Japanese garden where Kit lives. Kit knows nothing about it but later when she gets home she does some exploring and discovers the remains of a very neglected but wonderful Japanese garden.

There’s a photograph of the garden in the house they are living in, as it was in its heyday, and there are people in the photo, including a Japanese man in traditional dress, but strangely he appears and disappears in the photo. There’s something slightly spooky about the garden. When Kit meets Daniel who is also not a local they decide to work on the garden together.

There’s a lot more to this book, but I don’t want to say much more other than that I enjoyed it. As it happens there is a Japanese Garden at Cowden, not that far from where we live and a hop and a skip from where Eileen Dunlop lived in the wee town of Dollar. I’m sure that is where she got the idea from because the garden at Cowden fell into neglect and was vandalised in the 1960s. As in the book the original Japanese gardener is buried in the local churchyard. You can read the garden’s history and see more photos here. It has fairly recently been brought back to perfection and is open to the public, obviously it’s a business too nowadays so you have to pay an entrance fee. It’s quite a few years since we visited, (you can see my blogposts on our visits here) I seem to remember that there was a small play area for youngsters who may not be so enamoured of the beautiful surroundings.

 

Green for Danger by Christianna Brand

Green for Danger by Christianna Brand was first published in 1944 but it has been reprinted by British Library in their Crime Classics series.

The setting is Kent in 1942/43, at a new military hospital called Heron’s Park. Esther is a young woman who had joined the hospital as a V.A.D. against her widowed mother’s wishes as she was terrified of the bombing and didn’t want to be left on her own. Esther feels she has to do her bit though.

It’s a busy time for the hospital as lots of  bombs have been dropped in the locality. Joseph Higgins is a postman, and he’s also part of a rescue squad, helping to dig people and bodies out of bombed buildings. But he ends up in hospital himself after being caught up in a bombing raid. He’s very worried about having to have an operation and Esther reassures him, but something goes wrong when he’s on the operating table and he doesn’t survive it. When there’s another unexpected incident during an operation it’s obvious that there’s something nefarious going on.

Inspector Cockrill is called in to investigate.and it transpires that there’s a small number of people who would have had the opportunity to commit murder.

I must admit that I didn’t guess who the culprit was, which is always a plus, but I felt that I should have known. I didn’t really like many of the characters though which is always a problem for me.

Lynne Reid Banks 1929 – 2024

It’s not all that long ago that I  was surprised to discover that the author Lynne Reid Banks was still alive, but news of her death was printed in today’s Guardian.  You can read her obituary here.

The first book by her that I read was The L-Shaped Room which was the first book in a trilogy.  It’s a great read and although it’s getting on for 50 years since I read it there are still parts of that book which are very vivid in my mind. I passed my copy of the book on to Jack who at that time read mainly Science Fiction, then my mother read it, she read mainly books of the family saga type, particularly Catherine Cookson who was hugely popular at that time. Both Jack and my mother really enjoyed The L-Shaped Room too, it was made into a film starring Leslie Caron. She later went on to write books for children, the most well known one being The Indian in the Cupboard.

Since then I’ve enjoyed several more books by her, but I still have a few to read. She was a fair old age though, 94 so she might have been ready to go, unlike some authors recently who popped off far too early.

If you haven’t read anything by Lynne Reid Banks you should give her a go.

Squeaky Clean by Callum McSorley

Squeaky Clean by Callum McSorley is the author’s first novel and it won the McIlvanney Prize: Scottish Crime Book of the Year. The setting is Glasgow, mainly the east end.  I must say that I did like this one but in parts it’s not for the faint-hearted, or weak stomached, it’s definitely on the violent and gory side, but there is comedy too.

Detective Inspector Alison McCoist (yes, Ally McCoist) bungled her last investigation so she’s been demoted, if that wasn’t bad enough her husband has got custody of their teenage twins, things couldn’t get much worse for her but she’s determined to claw her wake back up again, it’s either that or she’ll be retired out of the force.

Sean owns a car wash business, he doesn’t do any of the work himself though, he’s in the office, with a serious cannabis habit. Davey is one of his employees, and he makes the huge mistake of ‘borrowing’ a client’s massive 4×4 to get to a family court session on time, he’s in danger of losing visiting rights to his much-loved daughter. Unfortunately Davey gets kidnapped on the way there, and the very expensive car is torched. He has been mistaken for Paulo, Glasgow’s most violent psychopathic gang leader.

Ally has had dealings with Paulo and company before, and she’s very suspicious of the car wash business. It’s all very dangerous for her, but if she succeeds in getting a conviction she’ll be back on that career ladder again.

This was a good read which reminded me a bit of Christopher Brookmyre’s books, but with less of the crazy humour, although it is funny in parts. I would definitely read more by McSorley in the future. I must admit though that there is quite a lot of Glasgow dialect which was no problem for me and I think should be easy for non Glaswegians to understand, but some people just can’t cope with dialogue like that.

 

 

The McManus Museum and Art Gallery, Dundee. Impressed Exhibition

In March we visited several art galleries, mainly in Edinburgh but we also visited the McManus Art Gallery and Museum in Dundee. They have an exhibition on called Impressed. It features limited edition prints by fairly well known artists.

The print below is by William McTaggart and is called Roses Against a Night Sky.

Dundee , William MacTaggart Roses Against a Night Sky

The print below is called Houses Hampstead and it’s by Winifred McKenzie.

Dundee, McManus,  Winifred McKenzie Houses Hampstead

Below is Homage to Modern Art by Ian Hamilton Finlay. As you can see the glass is very reflective so I’m featuring in it too! I just like boats, especially if they have sails they always look elegant.

Dundee ,Ian Hamilton Finlay Homage to Modern Art

Not to everyone’s taste, below is one by Eduard Paolozzi, I suppose it comes under the   heading of Pop Art.

aDundee 5 Eduard Paolozzi B.A.S.H. 2

Below is just a view of part of the exhibition, there’s quite a lot to see.

Dundee ,McManus,Second general view

There’s even a Picasso print, but I just realised after we left that I hadn’t  bothered to take a photo of it, I wasn’t too impressed! But generally the exhibition is well worth going to see, especially as it’s free.

Dundee ,McManus, General view

 

The House of Lamentations by S.G. MacLean

The House of Lamentations by S.G. MacLean is the fifth book in her Captain Damien Seeker series which ranges over the whole of the Cromwellian era.

It’s widely thought that Captain Damien Seeker had died at the end of the previous Seeker book, but in reality he has moved to Bruges where he has returned to his previous work as a carpenter. It’s a great cover for him as he is able to gain access to places he wouldn’t otherwise have reached.

Bruges has always been a popular place for the Royalist supporters to congregate. King Charles Stuart ( he had been crowned in Scotland after his father’s execution) hasn’t been welcomed elsewhere due to the politics of the time. His Royalist supporters have made themselves very unwelcome in the town as they’ve been spending a lot of their time gambling, drinking and causing trouble. A lot of the exploits centre around the House of Lamentations, a brothel.

Seeker is particularly interested in four of the Royalists, he has been sent information from England that one of them is a traitor to their cause, that puts Seeker himself in danger, but which of them is the turncoat?

Seeker, like many people had been becoming disillusioned with Cromwell’s regime which is as corrupt and nepotistic as the Stuarts’ had been, Cromwell’s cause certainly isn’t worth dying for.

The plot involves nuns and a Jesuit priest who even gives the nuns the creeps. The Jesuits always seem to be the bad guys, even nowadays, especially among old boys who had been taught by them!

I must say that at the beginning of the book there’s a description of a man being hanged drawn and quartered which for me was the most graphic that I had read, but maybe I’ve led a sheltered life.

There’s an author’s note at the back of this book, MacLean explains that she has used a lot of locations in Bruges which can be visited now by tourists, I wish I had known that when we visited the town some years ago, we just did a canal boat trip and walked around admiring the buildings.

The Bear Pit by S.G. MacLean

The Bear Pit by S.G. MacLean was published in 2019 and it’s the fourth in the author’s Captain Damian Seeker series. The setting is 1656, Cromwellian London.

The book begins with a botched attempt on Cromwell’s life, he has become so unpopular because it has become obvious that a large part of his reason for ousting the Stuart dynasty and having King Charles I executed was so that he could have the throne for himself. His regime hasn’t led to improvements in the lives of most of the ordinary people. Damian Seeker is kept busy sniffing out the many plots against Cromwell.

While chasing after one of the would-be assassins, Seeker discovers the horribly mutilated body of a man. He had been shackled to a wall by his neck, it looks like it must have been a bear that had attacked him, but all the bears had been shot on Cromwell’s orders, bear baiting has been banned. Who would do such a thing to an old man? Seeker is determined to track the perpetrator down, he’s a busy man.

I’m still enjoying this series. This one won the CWA Sapere Historical Dagger.