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.

The Guardian Review – some links

I thought you might be interested in some of these links to articles from last Saturday’s Guardian Review.

The Guardian has asked seven writers about their survival strategies in lockdown, you can read the article here.

There’s a review of Kazuo Ishiguro’s new book Klara and the Sun. It’s another masterpiece apparently.

There’s a review of Two-Way Mirror: The Life of Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

There’s an article about a great crop of children’s books being published, aimed at children aged eight and over. You can read it here.

The Dark Mile by D.K. Broster

 The Dark Mile cover

The Dark Mile by D.K. Broster was first published in 1929 and it’s the third part of a trilogy. The Flight of the Heron and The Gleam in the North should be read before this one.

The setting of The Dark Mile is nine years after the battle of Culloden. The inhabitants of the Highlands of Scotland are still very much under the rule of the Redcoats. They aren’t allowed to own guns for fear they would be used against the British army which is very much in control with hundreds of soldiers based at Fort William.

The disaster of Culloden isn’t far away, especially for Ewen Cameron who is still mourning the execution of his friend and relative Doctor Archibald Cameron at Tyburn, for High Treason. Ewen knows that someone had betrayed Archibald, probably giving information of his whereabouts to the English authorities – in return for gold.

Ewen’s cousin Ian Cameron is now his father’s heir as the eldest son had died at Culloden. Ian’s father is keen for him to get married and is beginning to negotiate with another family for their daughter’s hand, but Ian has fallen in love already, unfortunately his choice is a Campbell. It seems doomed from the beginning as Ian’s father will have nothing to do with Campbells as they were on King George’s side during the Jacobite Rebellion.

This book has more romance in it than the other two, but there’s still adventure, danger and drama. It’s a good read.

Pinocchio by Carlo/ Charles Collodi

Pinocchio Cover

Pinocchio by Charles Collodi is the children’s classic that I chose for my Back to the Classics Challenge 2021 list. I’ve been meaning to read it for years, but I must admit that I had no idea that Pinocchio was written so long ago. It was in 1880 that Collodi started writing The Adventures of Pinocchio, the stories were published weekly in a children’s magazine. The Disney film was made in 1940.

This was an enjoyable read with Pinocchio getting into all sorts of scrapes because he was being naughty, despite promising to be good. He’s always very sorry and sees the error of his ways, but he really just can’t help himself.

Each chapter is a warning to the young readers not to do what Pinocchio does. He runs away from Geppetto his ‘father’. He’s easily duped out of his money by a couple of con-men in the shape of a cat and a fox. He ends up being hung up from a tree, but rescued by a blue-haired fairy via a crow. There is a talking cricket but it doesn’t feature in the way that Jiminy Cricket in the film does.

The author managed to write stories with morals and warnings, about the best way children should behave to avoid trouble and upsetting other people, but without being preachy or prissy and with plenty of fun. It’s illustrated in line and colour by A.H. Watson, although there’s only one colour illustration.

My copy of the book dates from 1945 and has a foreword by Compton Mackenzie. It is DEDICATED TO THE BOYS AND GIRLS OF EVERY COLOUR, AGE, AND COUNTRY.

Pinocchio End Papers

I really like the endpapers, but as you can see a bookshop has added a sticker to the front ones.
Boans Book Salon, 1st FLOOR, MURRAY ST. END PERTH WA

The word PERTH jumped out at me and I thought, it hasn’t travelled far in its 76 years, then I realised it was Perth in Australia.

Balbirnie walk, Fife

Our Saturday afternoon walk took us through the Balbirnie Estate woodland in Fife, which in these pandemic times is much busier than it used to be. There are lots of snowdrops looking their best at the moment and I thought they would be visible in the photos but obviously I need to do a close up of them as even I can hardly see them, and I know where they are!

Balbirnie Park , Fife, Scotland

The path leads to a wooden bridge which is perfect for playing Poohsticks, if you’re that way inclined.

Balbirnie Park, Fife, Scotland, woodland

A bit further on there’s a good view of the surrounding park and farmland which was once part of the estate which was owned by the Balfour family. A train dashed across the middle of the scene but I didn’t manage to get it in my photo, it’s behind the trees to the left.
Balbirnie Park, Fife, Scotland

You can see lots more photos of the parkland here. The landscaping of the estate began in 1779, you can read a bit about it here.

Back home in my garden the most colourful spot at the moment is the pot of dwarf Iris reticulata (Joyce). There are some planted directly into the ground but they haven’t appeared yet.
Iris reticulata Joyce

The Masterpiece by Emile Zola

 The Masterpiece cover

The Masterpiece by Emile Zola was first published in 1886. My copy was translated by Thomas Walton in 1950 and I must say that I doubt if anyone else could have done a better job. It’s the fouteenth novel in Zola’s Rougon Macquart series, and it’s a great read. I read this one for Back to the Classics Challenge and The Classics Club.

The Masterpiece is Zola’s most autobiographical novel, he based the main characters – a group of artistic friends on some of his own friends and himself. The artist Cezanne was his friend and there must have been plenty of artistic discussions between the two over the years, so Zola would have had plenty of copy to choose from I’m sure. The character Sandoz is based on Zola.

The main character Claude is a serious young artist, his friends think he has great talent and it’s only a matter of time before he becomes his generation’s Delacroix with his art being hung in The Salon and winning prizes. Claude is developing a new style called ‘Open Air’ (Impressionist). However he makes life difficult for himself, painting on enormous canvases and never being happy with his work, never knowing when to stop. His ideas which start off well somehow always go awry and when he does manage to get a painting accepted by The Salon it’s only in the gallery of the ‘refused’ artworks, where everyone laughs at his efforts. However some years later one of his friend’s steals that composition and changes it slightly and the resulting painting and the artist are lauded.

Zola concentrates on Claude’s story and his wife Christine, but his friends are a sculptor, journalist, architect and of course a novelist, and their lives and how they interact with Claude are also a big part of the book.

Germinal has always been my favourite in this series but this one ran it a close thing, although I must warn anyone thinking of reading it – especially in these angst-ridden pandemic times – that it vies with Thomas Hardy for shock and darkness. However there are some lovely descriptions of Paris, especially at night, Claude was in love with the city.

There’s an introduction by the translator Thomas Walton, obviously not to be read until you’ve finished reading the book, but as it happens the one passage that I had marked to quote is in his introduction.

Sandoz (Zola) is speaking to Claude:

“Has it ever struck you that posterity may not be the fair, impartial judge we like to think it is? We console ourselves for being spurned and rejected by relying on getting a fair deal from the future, just as the faithful put up with with the abomination on this earth because they firmly believe in another life where everyone shall have his deserts. Suppose the artist’s paradise turned out to be as non-existent as the Catholic’s, and future generations proved just as misguided as the present one and persisted in liking pretty-pretty dabbling better than honest to goodness painting! …. What a sell for us all, to have lived like slaves, noses to the grindstone all to no purpose!”

Such is life!

I bought my copy of this book in a charity shop in North Berwick one hot summer’s day a few years ago in the glory days of travel. I can’t say that I like the cover though. It’s an Ann Arbor paperback, The University of Michigan Press, and I bought about five other Zola books along with it, all similarly very far from home.

I Belong Here by Anita Sethi

I Belong Here cover

I Belong Here by Anita Sethi is subtitled A Journey Along the Backbone of Britain and is due to be published on the 29th of April 2021 (Bloomsbury) and as it’s tagged ‘Outdoors and Nature.’ I was a bit disappointed that the first fifth of the book the author concentrated on writing about a horrendous experience she had while travelling on the Trans Pennine railway line when she was racially abused at great length by a fellow passenger. Luckily she was able to film some of it on her phone, and she also had good support from the railway staff. This culminated in the perpetrator being taken off the train and handcuffed. Eventually he pled guilty, but the experience haunted/haunts Anita and she keeps returning to the subject throughout the book. This isn’t surprising as the man had threatened to set her on fire. If you live in the UK you’ll probably remeber the case being on the news. I hope writing this book was a cathartic experience for her.

I can only imagine how annoying it must be when people keep asking you where you come from because you have brown skin, as if generations of brown and black skinned people haven’t been born in Britain. When Anita Sethi met Prince Charles he asked her where she came from and when she replied Manchester he said – you don’t look like you come from Manchester. Proving that Charles is indeed his father’s son. To be fair though, I bet that if I ever met him he would have had to make some sort of remark about me having red hair! That’s just another thing that can rile up strange people, as can a Scottish accent as I know myself, having been made to feel very unwelcome by some people while living in the south of England – or even just visiting England. Brexit has definitely emboldened bigots.

I had been under the impression that this was a book about nature and hill walking but that part of the book seemed like a long time in coming, which I found quite frustrating, but when the nature writing began I was impressed by it, and I hope she writes more in that vein. Her descriptions of rock formations and water ‘forces’ as waterfalls are called in ‘the north’ (of England) made me take note of the places she visited with a view to following in her footsteps, when we’re allowed to travel again – if I’m not too old by then!

The author does go off at tangents at times so there are a lot of subjects covered in the book, including grief – after the unexpected death of her friend who was only 28. She writes about the etymology of some words which I always find interesting, immigration and the Windrush scandal, mental health and ‘forest bathing’ – to name just a few subjects.

All in all I enjoyed being in Anita Sethi’s company most of the time, and meeting the people she had had conversations with along the way. I would have preferred less of the angst and more of the nature though.

I was sent this ebook by Bloomsbury for review via Netgalley.

Aunt Jo’s Scrapbag volume 6 by Louisa May Alcott

I recently finished reading Aunt Jo’s Scrapbag volume 6 by Louisa May Alcott. It’s a collection of short stories so it’s obviously a mixed bunch of tales and as always with these things some are better than others, but they were all worth reading. I read it on my Kindle and downloaded it, free from Project Gutenberg here.

L.M. Alcott was a woman ahead of her time. From her writing in these short stories she was obviously anti-slavery but also anti-caged birds and anti-whaling. While reading The Whale’s Story I experienced one of those strange moments when I saw that the tale was being told by a Right whale (deceased) from Greenland. Just a couple of hours earlier I had been reading an article about how a very rare Right whale had been spotted very far from where it should have been. Until then I had never even heard of Right whales!

You can read a wee bit about Alcott’s life here.

A Dutch bulbfield jigsaw puzzle

At last the Dutch bulbfield jigsaw puzzle is finished and I have to admit that if it had been up to me I would have given up on it – that would have been the first time ever, but Jack was absolutely determined to finish it so when I got too frustrated and cross-eyed with the sky he went on with it. There was even an extra piece! You can see that off to the side in the photo.

Completed Jigsaw of Dutch Scene

The actual puzzle looks far nicer in reality than it looks in the photo, it’s very detailed, but the photo makes it look cartoonish to me. It’s definitely the last of the season – even if we do get more snow – which I sincerely hope doesn’t happen.

Cousin Kate by Georgette Heyer

Cousin Kate cover

Cousin Kate by Georgette Heyer was first published in 1968, so it was the third last of her books and for me it seemed quite different from her other romances. The actual romance part was more or less over by around the middle of the book, and there was a distinct lack of the witty repartee that I enjoy so much about her dialogue.

Kate Malvern has been brought up ‘following the drum’ as her father had been a professional soldier, her mother had died young, so Kate isn’t your average Regency lady. She has had to work as a governess to support herself and when she loses her job she has to move in with Mrs Nidd who was her nursemaid.

Sarah Nidd writes to Lady Broome who is Kate’s Aunt Minerva, asking if she can help her niece and the upshot is that Kate is taken by Lady Broome to stay at Staplewood, her large home. Her husband is Sir Timothy, a much older man and he has more or less withdrawn to his own wing of the house as his wife is an overbearing bully and he just won’t stand up to her. His only friend had been his nephew Philip, but Kate becomes the daughter that he had never had.

Kate realises that her aunt has an ulterior motive for her invitation to Stapleton, she wants Kate to marry her son Torquil. He’s completely in his mother’s control, he’s always had delicate health, but it’s his mental state that worries Kate. He has tantrums and generally behaves like a three year old and his mother employs Dr Delabole to dose him up when he has a turn. His mother is desperate for him to produce an heir, but it needs to be with a wife that would also be under the control of Minerva his mother, she thinks Kate would be the ideal wife. Kate thinks differently.

This book dragged for me a bit although I must admit it got a bit more interesting towards the end, but it isn’t one of her best, mainly because of the lack of humour and wit which I’ve come to expect from Heyer’s writing.

Welsh Rarebit – a Felicity Cloake recipe

Welsh Rarebit

Welsh Rarebit Again

Yesterday I decided to cook something a bit different for lunch, using a recipe from Felicity Cloake’s book. I had never cooked Welsh rarebit before – or Welsh rabbit as it is sometimes known, although I have eaten it before of course. It’s really easy to make and was absolutely delicious although as you can see, despite the fact that we used three bits of bread between us, the mixture still overflowed a lot, next time I’ll use four bits of bread. This is just posh cheese on toast. We used a wholemeal loaf which Jack cut thick slices from.

We didn’t have any stout but I used Newcastle Brown Ale instead, Jack was happy to finish the rest of it, I am not a fan of beer although it is tasty in this recipe.

You can read the Guardian article which appears in the book along with the recipe here.