About Katrina

I live on the east coast of Scotland, not from choice. After 30 years here it still doesn't feel like home. Hence the name of my blog. West is still best as far as I am concerned. I'm married with two grown up 'boys'. I'm interested in books, films, art, crafts, cooking, politics, museums and travelling around Britain.

Wild Strawberries by Angela Thirkell

Wild Strawberries cover

Wild Strawberries is the second of Angela Thirkell’s Barsetshire books, first published in 1934 but my copy is a 1983 Hamlyn paperback.

This one revolves mainly around the Leslie family. I remember someone commenting years ago that the Leslies were their least favourite characters, and I can see that some people could find them very annoying indeed, but they’ve suffered tragedies that money can’t cushion. There is a sort of sense of entitlement pervading them but for me there’s just enough charm there to be able to forgive that, although I could see David Leslie far enough – as they say.

Lady Emily Leslie is so disorganised that she can’t get anywhere on time, not even to church, and it holds everybody up. Even when she gets there she causes chaos with her stage whispers as she tells everybody where to sit. The eldest son was killed in the Great War and the youngest son David is absolutely full of himself, has umpteen lady friends and never gives a thought to any of them. John who is son number two is the sensible one. His wife Gay died after just a year of marriage.

With the arrival of a family friend to stay for the summer and some French visitors who have rented the vicarage (I doubt if that was actually possible) the story evolves with the usual bits of romance, uppity servants and mothers of young children who are incredibly relaxed about them, not batting an eye when they cause havoc and mess. After all, why worry when the nanny will sort it all out!

This one is entertaining and interesting as David Leslie is hoping to get a job at the BBC which is in its early days and it seems that any ‘toff’ with the right sort of an accent could get a job there – even women! It’s obvious that most of the young men working there were gay, but sometimes settled for a ‘companionate’ marriage – to the right sort of girl – with money of course.

At one point David Leslie is at the railway station to meet someone and the London bank-holiday train disgorges lots of hikers, a few of which give him the Fascist salute – I wonder just how common that was in 1934, just a year after Hitler took power in Germany.

This book is one of my 20 Books of Summer.

Meet Ziggy and Fleur

Back to the subject of dogs, I was really impressed with the cute Aran pullover that my Dutch sister-in-law knitted for my niece’s pit bull terrier Ziggy. The pattern is very similar to my Aran jacket, so I just had to get a photo of us together – we’re well matched!
Ziggy and K

Ziggy has very short hair, he feels like velvet but it means that he feels the cold easily so he really needs his Aran in chilly weather. He also has wee short legs as well as a very thick, dense body and although he loves the water he isn’t able to paddle his legs fast enough to stay up. So a dog life-jacket was purchased and that means he can swim around as much as he wants.
Ziggy + buoyancy aid

dogs swimming 2

We went quite a long walk to reach this popular pond and unfortunately on the way Ziggy was attacked by another pit bull which made its way over a large ditch to reach us. Ziggy is such a sweetie and very gentle, but the other dog had a terrible owner who must have trained his dog up to be aggressive. Its ears had been cut off, leaving just small bits on his head, apparently that is what people do when they use dogs for fighting, it means there’s less for the other dog to get a hold of, it’s horrific, and illegal in Holland, they have to go to Slovakia to get dogs like that. Anyway, no damage was done to Ziggy, although that dog had three goes at attacking him, being dragged off by its owner each time.

Ziggy Swimming 2

It was Fleur the border collie/spaniel cross who was barking back more at the attacking dog, but as you can see – it didn’t stop her from being completely laid back later on in the day.

Fleur

High Rising by Angela Thirkell

It’s the time of the year when if I’m not on holiday then I have people visiting me for a holiday, so I’ve just been too busy to blog recently, but a fun time was had by all as we dashed about the east of Scotland showing friends some sights. But back to blogging:

One of the books on my 20 Books of Summer 2017 list is Angela Thirkell’s High Rising, a re-read for me because I wanted to read them all in the correct order this time around. High Rising introduces many of the inhabitants of Barsetshire, that updated setting of many of Anthony Trollope’s books and featuring some of the descendants of his characters, but that is by the by as it really doesn’t matter if you haven’t read those books.

The book was first published in 1933 but my copy is a modern re-print with an introduction by Alexander McCall Smith. It mainly features Mrs Laura Morland, a widow with four sons, three of whom are out in the world, but her youngest son Tony is still at prep school and he’s the reason she keeps writing her very popular Madam Koska books, she needs the money they bring in to pay for his school fees apart from anything else. Tony is an exasperating little boy, absolutely full of himself and constantly boasting, but there’s a lot of comedy in Tony’s shenanigans. Thirkell had two sons of her own and I’m sure that she was using an actual boy as a template for Tony’s character, he’s obsessed by trains and has an urge to pass on all his railway information to anyone he comes across. Anyone with sons will recognise that stage, although in my day it was more likely to be dinosaurs or F1 racing.

George Knox is really just an adult version of Tony, someone who loves to hear his own voice, but he has taken on a secretary to help him write his books and there’s something odd about her. She seems to be far too familiar considering she is a type of servant, she is behaving more like a wife, and George’s friends fear she will hook him.

Can Laura save George from the clutches of the obviously mentally unstable secretary, whilst shedding her tortoiseshell hairpins? I googled kirby grips/Bobby pins to see when they were invented and it seems to have been in the 1920s, but Laura was sticking loyally to the old fashioned hairpins which do fall out easily, I know as I have some from way back then.

I enjoyed reading this one just as much as the first time I read it. If you want to read my more detailed review from then have a look here.

Standing Stones, Orkney

On this Summer Solstice I thought I would do a post about the Neolithic stones we recently visited on Orkney.

The Standing Stones of Stenness are well worth going to see although it can get a bit busy. We were lucky, there weren’t too many people around and we did get them to ourselves for a wee while. You can see the Ring of Brodgar and Maeshowe from this location, and when you go for a walk around you are literally tripping over settlements which haven’t been excavated yet, there are just too many of them around and presumably not enough resources to start digs.

Stones of Stenness Information Board

This area was well populated 5,000 years BC, in fact Orkney was the centre of the Neolithic world apparently! Unfortunately I didn’t notice the electricity pylon sticking above one of the stones in the photo below.

Standing Stones on Orkney

It’s a great location near the banks of the sea loch the Loch of Stenness and the freshwater Loch of Harray.
Stones of Stenness

Just to give you an idea of how big the stones are, below is a photo of me beside one, somewhat windswept!
Stone of Stenness and me

Highland River by Neil M. Gunn

Highland River cover

Highland River by Neil M. Gunn won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1937 and I’m trying to make my way through as many of the winners as possible. It’ll be a long haul as there are a lot of them.

This is just the third book by Gunn that I’ve read, I think so far The Silver Darlings is my favourite.

Highland River is set around the Dunbeath area of the Scottish Highlands.

It’s really the story of Gunn’s childhood. It was a hand to mouth existence and the story begins with Kenn being sent out in the dark of early morning to get water from the well situated near a pool. It’s freezing and Kenn slips and falls in the water, but in doing so he realises that a huge salmon has become trapped in the pool, and so begins a battle to catch it with his hands. This is an aspect of the book that reccurs time and time again, in fact too much for me, it might appeal to those who are interested in unusual fishing techniques.

The Scottish Highland childhood chapters are interspersed with chapters about Kenn and his brother’s experiences in the trenches of World War 1 and I would have been happier with the book if there had been more of those. Gunn never was involved in that war though so he probably felt he was better off sticking to writing about what he knew about. He was a customs officer/excise man from 1910 until he was able to earn enough from his writing to become a full time writer in 1937.

He was active politically and was a member of the National Party for Scotland part of which later became the Scottish National Party. He died in 1973.

As it happens, when we were travelling home from our recent trip to Orkney we stopped off at Dunbeath which is a very small place, but is in a beautiful area of Caithness. They’re proud of their ‘local hero; and have erected a statue of Kenn with his massive salmon, a scene from this book. The photo below is of the river that runs through Dunbeath, it’s called Dunbeath Water, and is presumably the Highland river from the title.

Dunbeath Water

There’s also this lovely statue of Kenn and his salmon, a scene from the book.
Kenn + Salmon

I also read this one for the Read Scotland 2017 Challenge and it’s one of my 20 Books of Summer.

I, Claudius by Robert Graves

I, Claudius cover

You will probably notice that my copy of this book is the 1977 tie in to the BBC dramatisation of I, Claudius. Shockingly it has taken me 40 years to get around to reading it! The book was originally published in 1934.

I really enjoyed reading I, Claudius although I’m not sure if I would have enjoyed it so much if I hadn’t watched the BBC drama – twice over the years – as there are so many characters thrown at you. Mind you often they didn’t hang around for very long as so many people were poisoned or otherwise given the chop.

It’s a very readable history of Rome, up to A.D. 41 supposedly written by Claudius, a disabled, stammering, twitching grandson of Augustus who was despised by his entire family, but inside his less than perfect body there was a clever and quick witted brain which helped him to survive when all the rest were being murdered or banished to tiny islands.

This book won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize as did the sequel Claudius the God which was published in the same year. Possibly they were originally published in one volume.

If you want a more in depth review of this book then hop over to She Reads Novels and Helen’s review of I, Claudius.

This is one of my 20 Books of Summer.

For once I think that the TV programme was just as good if not better than the book, Derek Jacobi was brilliant as Claudius and John Hurt as Caligula was unforgettable. Sadly he died earlier this year. Have a look at this excerpt where Caligula who has decided he is the god Jove has taken on his enemy Neptune.

Orkney Book Purchases

For some reason I never gave any thought to the book buying possibilities in Orkney, but as we were driving around Kirkwall looking for a place to park I spotted a sign saying those wonderful words – Secondhand Books. Luckily after visiting the town centre, Saint Magnus Cathedral and two Historic Scotland properties we were able to walk back to the car and find the bookshop not too far away. So my haul was.

Latest Book Haul

1. The Tall Stranger by D.E. Stevenson
2. Evensong by Beverley Nichols
3. Hunting the Fairies by Compton Mackenzie
4. Rogues and Vagabonds by Compton Mackenzie
5. Cloak of Darkness by Helen MacInnes
6. North from Rome by Helen MacInnes
7. Britannia Mews by Margery Sharp
8. Off In a Boat (A Hebridean Voyage) by Neil M. Gunn

Six of them are by Scottish authors so they’ll come in handy for the Reading Scotland 2017 Challenge.

Have you read any of these?

How Much Is That Doggie In The Window

Wandering further afield from the town centre in Ypres, Belgium, we were amused to see a dog sitting in the window of a shoe shop.

dog in window

That was our cue to start singing How much is that doggie in the window? of course. Well, we thought it was funny but the dog was not amused and took to pacing the length of the window, we were obviously dodgy customers as far as that dog was concerned.

Did you know that when Margaret Thatcher ‘did’ Desert Island Discs she said that that song was her favourite piece of music. It says a lot about her!

If you want a blast from the past have a look at Patti Page singing it.

Nella Last in the 1950s by Nella Last

Nella Last in the 1950s

The last book to be published using Nella Last’s mass observations diary is Nella Last in the 1950s. By this time she and her husband are getting on in years and ill health, particularly that of her husband is a major worry for Nella. But in the wider population it was surprising to me how worried people seemed to be about the possibilty of another war beginning, and the use of a hydrogen bomb in the near future was seen as almost certain. No doubt some people were missing the wartime atmosphere of everyone pulling together against one enemy and so civil defence meetings were going on, probably being run by people who were feeling rather aimless in this new peacetime Britain.

This book is quite sad in many ways, I had hoped that Nella and Will would become closer as they got older, but Will’s mental health got worse and they seemed to spend a lot of time taking him to various hospital appointments. But Nella herself suffered from nerves and I’m fairly sure that the operation that she mentions that she had had in the first book was a hysterectomy, although she never specified it. In those days doctors were keen on diagnosing women as being in need of that operation, there was almost an epidemic of them, supposedly as a means of curing women of ‘hysteria’ or nerves. Unfortunately it seems that they just told men such as Will that there was no cure for their nerves.

Although I really like Nella she was definitely a bit odd, that usually attracts me to people anyway but I did think it was weird that she got so annoyed at her eldest son and daughter-in-law when they sent her husband a scarf for Christmas. She sent it all the way back to Ireland so they could exchange it for socks!!

Nella never did manage to get a house in her beloved Lake District and as usually happens in such cases Will outlived her, I wonder how he managed without her to look after him?

Home from Orkney!

We had a really enjoyable week in Orkney although two of the days we were there were pretty horrendous weather wise, but it turned out that those days were very wet and windy in lots of parts of the UK, although probably just not as bad as Orkney. Although it was June I felt that we were definitely novices as the people who had thought to bring woolly hats and gloves with them were at an advantage, it did feel more like November.

We got the ferry from Gills Bay – right up in the north-west Scottish mainland and I have to admit that when we got off the ferry at St Margaret’s Hope I wasn’t at all sure what I thought of the treeless Orkney landscape. I love trees and I really missed them, the weather is too fierce there for anything but the toughest of trees to survive, and it turns out that field maples are the only ones that seem to be able to withstand the cold and wild winds, but even they are sparse. After a few days though I began to love the scenery, it’s just a different sort of beauty.

Not many people seem to bother with gardening there, maybe it’s just too disappointing when plants die, but I did see a fuchsia hedge and oriental poppies seem to do well there, and I spotted one wee laburnum tree sheltering beneath a field maple.

Loads of photos were taken of course, but I haven’t looked through them all yet – and in any case, I still have to do some blogposts about our recent visit to Holland. I’ll catch up with Orkney soon though I hope.