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.

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by e.l. konigsburg

 From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler cover

This book was first published in 1967 and it won the Newbery Medal. I was lucky enough to be given it by Jennifer and until I received I hadn’t even heard of the book but it was just perfect reading for these strange and unsettling times.

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg begins in a suburn of New York City where Claudia, the eldest of four children is thoroughly fed up with things as they are. She has three younger brothers who never have to do any chores around their home, not that all her work is appreciated, in fact they try to make her life even more difficult.

Claudia decides that the time has come for her to run away, the only problem is that she has very little money, she can’t save her pocket money as she must have her hot fudge sundae treat every week. Her plan will only work if she can persuade her brother Jamie to go with her as he is a tightwad and consequently has quite a stash of money saved.

She doesn’t want to stay away from home too long, just long enough to make her parents worry and pay her more attention in the future. She’s not keen on roughing it so plans to stay somewhere where they can be fairly comfortable and she chooses the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Claudia and Jamie manage to dodge the museum guards for days and they are able to wander around the museum and sleep in a 16th century four poster bed. Claudia has it all worked out, they bathe in a fountain and manage to eke out their money and even wash their clothes at a launderette. Then Claudia becomes obsessed by a new exhibit of a statue of an angel – is it by Michelangelo or not?

This is a lovely book and I so empathised with Claudia’s situation at home, a common one for girls of my and Claudia’s age back in 1967. Although this is a lovely light read it also shows how the siblings become aware of each other’s strengths and weaknesses and they learned to appreciate each other more.

Blood on the Mink by Robert Silverberg

 Blood on the Mink cover

Blood on the Mink by Robert Silverberg was first published in 1962 and at 156 pages it’s a really quick read. I’ve been having trouble settling down to read and had tried and failed with a few books before this one unexpectedly hit the spot.

The setting is 1950s America, starting in Chicago before moving on quickly to Philadelphia – apparently the City of Brotherly Love. Someone is printing loads of counterfeit US money in Philadelphia and it’s almost indistinguishable from the real thing. The government sends Nick an undercover agent there to infiltrate the gang responsible and to find out where the currency is being printed.

It all gets very complicated and more than a wee bit dangerous, but Nick is a good guy always aiming to wing not kill, which is more than can be said for the gangsters. This is well written but very much of its time so there’s quite a lot of 1950s style sexism, if that bothers you then this might not be for you. Maybe there’s something wrong with me, I just find it quite amusing and quaint nowadays. There’s quite a lot of humour. It all helps to set the scene. Philadelhia is portrayed as being a very strait-laced and boring place, you can’t get a drink after midnight and nothing at all is open on a Sunday – very similar to Scotland until fairly recently, but apparently unusual in 1950s America.

Robert Silverberg is better known as a very successful writer of science fiction, but he wrote all sorts of things when he was starting out in his career. He wrote a very interesting afterword to this one which had initially been rejected, it was a difficult time for writers and publishers (when is it not?) and magazines were going to the wall. A magazine publisher decided he might have more luck publishing a novel and Silverberg offered him this old one of his. He was paid $800 for it which apparently had buying power of about $8,000 then. How lucky was that?!

This book also contains a couple of short stories – Dangerous Doll and One Night of Violence.

Armchair Travelling in Scotland

I’m always saying that the future has been such a disappointment to me as we still can’t teleport around the world with Scotty beaming us up. On Star Trek – The New Generation when people were in need of a change of scene they had an afternoon off on the Holodeck. Sadly we can’t do that, wouldn’t it be great if we could, but as we’re stuck at home for the duration, however long that might be we can only have a trawl through You Tube and do some armchair travelling.

I love Paul Murton’s TV series ‘Grand Tours’ of the Highlands, Islands and Lochs. If you fancy a change of scene away from your living room you can admire the change of scenery.

Below there’s an episode of Paul Murton’s BBC series Grand Tours of the Scottish Islands.

Now here’s one of Paul Merton’s Grand Tours of Scottish Lochs.

And I found this interesting film featuring the Western Isles.

No tickets, traffic jams, delays or bad weather problems!

Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times

In common with most book lovers I have stacks of unread books awaiting my attention. Judith at Reader in the Wilderness has decided to start her Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times MEME – talk about three of the books in your TBR stacks. For me anyway this might be a way of reacquainting myself with books that I was keen to buy at the time, but for some reason have languished in the piles. I’ve been having trouble concentrating on reading, in common with loads of readers so I might find something to pique my interest here.

Niccolo Rising by Dorothy Dunnett – I started collecting this series while I was reading the author’s Lymond series which was a few years ago. I think it’s the thickness of the book that has put me off beginning it, but having finished reading The Mirror and the Light at over 800 pages, this book now seems quite slim.

Niccolo

Flowers on the Grass by Monica Dickens. I have no idea how long I’ve had this one which according to the blurb is: perhaps the gayest and most entertaining novel yet written by an author whose work has always been unfailingly entertaining. The setting ranges from a country cottage to a holiday camp in Northern England, a Bayswater hotel to a modern ‘do-as-you-like’ school, and has a fascinating gallery of characters – apparently. I’m now wondering why I haven’t thought of reading it before now.

Dickens

Over the Mountains by Pamela Frankau has a World War 2 setting. It’s May 1940 and the British armies are retreating from Dunkirk. Reading the blurb I’ve just realised that this one is the last book of a trilogy, but I think it can be read as a stand alone book, and it seems like it might be right up my street.

Frankau

I’m going to read one of these books soon – if I can concentrate on one, I might have to dip into all three before I find one I can concentrate on!

Drum Castle, Aberdeenshire, Scotland

Just as it was getting towards the time when all the National Trust and Historic Scotland properties were going to be opening for the new season – they didn’t, due to Coronavirus. But when we visited Drum Castle – I’m amazed to see that it was way back in October 2018 – I only wrote blogposts about the outside of the castle and it’s surroundings here and here.

I meant to get around to blogging about the inside, but you know what it’s like, it somehow eluded me, anyway below is a photo of the dining room. I must say that Drum Castle is very comfortable looking, considering it’s a castle.

Dining Room, Drum Castle

The library is very well stocked, but untouchable of course.
Drum Castle, library, Aberdeenshire, Scotland

There’s a very handy sitting area at the window where you could settle down with your choice of book, if you had happened to live there. The alcove it’s in highlights the thickness of the castle’s walls.

Drum Castle Library, Window Recess

The door leading to the sitting room loks like a castle door should I think.
Sitting Room, Drum Castle

But the room is fairly homely I think, not too grand.

Sitting Room, Drum Castle

I could quite happily settle down at this fireplace.
Sitting Room Fireplace, Drum Castle

The sitting room ceiling goes well with the door.
Drum Castle Sitting Room Ceiling

I woinder if there ever really was a cradle at the bottom of this four poster bed when this castle was a family home. I suspect that a nanny was in charge of the nursery and children. But the cradle is beautiful.
Bedroom, Drum Castle

As is the half-tester bed below, and the bureau which I believe is in a Japanese/Chinese style but it’s so long ago now I can’t remember!

Bedroom, Drum Castle, Aberdeenshire, Scotland

If you happen to be in the vicinty of Drum Castle in Aberdeenshire or what is now called Grampian I believe, it’s well worth a visit.

Vegetable Biscuits

I was lucky enough to be given an unusual tin of biscuits on Mother’s Day.

Vegetable Biscuits

Biscuits and Tin

They’re my idea of the perfect ‘vegetable’ biscuits, beautifully iced and almost too pretty to eat.

The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier

 The House on the Strand cover

I had a feeling that I might have read The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier way back in the early 1970s. It was first published in 1969, but I definitely hadn’t read it before. The reason I wanted to read it is that a couple of weeks ago I caught the back end of a programme which mentioned that many readers said that Rebecca was their favourite du Maurier book, but older readers tended to plump for The House ion the Strand. I enjoyed this one but although it’s years since I read Rebecca I think I still prefer that one.

This is a time shift tale with the action split between the late 1960s and 1332, the setting is of course Cornwall.

Dick is married to an American widow who has two young sons, but at the beginning of the book he is on his own, waiting for his family to arrive at the house which has been loaned to them by his friend Magnus. Magnus is a professor, a scientist who has a laboratory in the basement of the house. Dick’s relationship with his wife Vita is a difficult one, not helped by Magunus’s attitude to his marriage.

Magnus asks Dick to be a guinea pig, helping in research he has been carrying out. It means that Dick has to take some liquid and report to Magnus what effects it has on him. For Dick the effects are amazing, he’s whisked back to 1332, where he can see what is going on in the area around the house he is living in. Although there seems to be no evidence of buildings which existed it seems that there was a lot going on. There was a priory and large farmhouses and Dick is a witness to murders and intrigue, without being able to do anything about them. When the effects of the liquid wear off he’s violently ill, but is unable to stop himself from repeating the experiment, wanting to find out what happens to the people who he is convinced used to live in the neighbourhood.

When Vita and the boys arrive it isn’t so easy for him to find time to take the liquid, and his behaviour causes problems with Vita

Actually it was the contemporary part of the book which didn’t ring quite true for me, mainly because I couldn’t believe in the relationship between Dick and Vita. He supposedly loved her but it seemed to be a sort of love/dislike thing and I must admit that there didn’t seem to be much to like about her.

I intend to read all of her books and only have a few still to read I think. So far I have enjoyed The King’s General most – apart from Rebecca. This book did make me think that I would like to read more about the history of the 14th century – and wouldn’t you know it – this did feature the Black Death!

Guardian links – books

Alex Clark’s article in the Guardian review – Hole up, hunker down… and read might be of interest to you, you can read it here. It’s his suggestion of books to read during this horrible Covid-19 situation. I must admit I’ve only read one of them – Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner, and I didn’t love that one as much as many people did. But I’ve been meaning to read The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann for decades, it’s a pity I don’t have a copy of it in my house.

Reading the description of Devotions upon Emergent Occasions by John Donne makes me think this book might be worth a read, you can read it free here. Having had a quick squint at it I’m not at all sure it’s my cup of tea now.

Otherwise, there’s an interview with Anne Glenconner, one time lady-in-waiting to Princess Margaret. Her book Lady in Waiting: My extraordinary Life in the Shadow of the Crown has been selling like hot cakes. You can read the interview here.

Five Windows by D.E. Stevenson

 Five Windows cover

Five Windows by D.E. Stevenson was first published in 1953, but it has been reprinted since then.
I enjoyed this one although I can’t say that it’s my favourite by the author.

I really like the idea of a book with five sections, each one beginning with a description of the view from the window from the room where the narrator David is living. Through the actions of other characters that we meet David learns some important life lessons.

David is the only child of the local minister and his much younger wife, they live in Nethercleugh in the Scottish Borders, it’s a very quiet rural location and we follow his career from the age of nine until his early 20s.

The first window view is from his childhood bedroom window and “looked out over the garden to the bridge and the hills.”

The setting changes to Edinburgh when he starts secondary school and lives with his uncle.

The view from the second window “looked out on a chequer-board of gardens, each separated from its neighbour by a solid stone wall covered with ivy.” David’s two best schoolfriends are very different from each other and he allows himself to be led by one of them, culminating in David moving to London at the end of his schooldays.

The third window is London and it begins: The wall towered up some thirty feet from my window: It was of dingy brick and there was no break in it except for an iron ventilator.” The boarding house that he rented a room in was ghastly, filthy and the food provided was awful, but worse than that was the other boarders. But this was a steep learning curve for David, he learned a lot about people before he made his escape, for me this was the darkest section of the book, but maybe it’s through strife that we learn the most.

The description of the fourth window view begins, “My window looked out on to roofs of all shapes and sizes sloping in all directions: upon jutting gables and hundreds of chimney-pots.” From an attic flat David has real freedom for the first time, a place of his own but it’s not easy as he has to count every penny. This section is much happier as until now David’s life was far from one he had imagined for himself, and it begins to go in a more hopeful direction.

The fifth window was “dirty and we could not see through it, so I opened it from the bottom and we looked out …. Now that the trees had been felled we could see for miles: we could see meadows and fields: we could see hedges with the green tint of spring upon them.”

I liked this book but it has a few preachy Christian passages in it which don’t appeal to me. It has a lot of similarities with O. Douglas books with the main character home-making and descriptions of interior decoration – and the preachy bits. But I do love the idea of the descriptions from the windows as whenever you walk into a room of a house that you think you might end up living in the first thing most people do is walk over to the window to see what the view is like.

Yet again D.E. Stevenson managed a wee name check for her more illustrious relative R.L. Stevenson.

The Weem Witch by Leonard Low

 The Weem Witch cover

I was loaned a copy of The Weem Witch by Leonard Low by a friend after hearing the author talk at a local history group meeting on a different subject. This is an interesting although at times horrific read because in the early 1700s in the coastal villages of Fife a terrible kind of madness took over the inhabitants. The area had suffered badly from an economic downturn and was extremely poverty stricken. Life was miserable for most people there and it didn’t take much for people to point fingers and accuse people of being a witch. In 1704 A bucket which contained some water and coal and left outside a door was claimed to be a witch’s spell. The local bigwigs and particularly a local church minister started to cast around looking for someone to blame for their misfortunes and dragged lots of innocent women and some men into their investigations. Their victims were tortured until they would admit to anything just to make it stop.

The goings-on were objected to by the authorities in Edinburgh who obviously had a bit more common sense about them and that led to so-called witches being released, but the locals must have felt hard done by and when a young woman – Janet Cornfoot – who scraped her living by doing sewing for people was accused of being a witch by one of her drunken clients, they were determined to give her a ghastly end.

This was an interesting read, although as the author himself admitted he does ramble at times and he throws in quite a bit of earlier history to set the scene, which was fine by me, but the people of Pittenweem (which is a village very close to where the author lives) seem to have been a very nasty lot who whipped themselves up to hysterical madness and committed long drawn out murder on the beaches of the East Neuk of Fife. I’ll never feel quite the same about having a walk along those beaches!