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.

Lucia in Wartime by Tom Holt

Lucia in Wartime cover

Lucia in Wartime by Tom Holt is an enjoyable read, especially for those of us who just love to be in the company of Tilling’s foremost inhabitants, but unsurprisingly the author doesn’t quite come up to E.F. Benson standards. There are of course plenty of spats between Mapp and Lucia. In Benson’s books these are snobby and catty but in this book they descend into nastiness that feels like it has all been taken just a wee bit too far.

Also I think the author could have been doing with re-reading the originals a bit more closely as he gets quite a few details wrong about them. For instance Major Flint’s habitual yell of quai-hai has become qui-hi.

Diva is even busier than usual with her dressmaking projects, she has of course always had a ‘make-do and mend’ mentality and rationing has just encouraged her to get her scissors out and add chintz roses to her clothing.

Most of the servants have left and gone to make munitions, Lucia and Georgie are appalled at the thought of having to cook for themselves, but Georgie rises to the challenge and discovers a talent for making meals out of practically nothing, and Major Benjy is in charge of the Home Guard. Mapp gets into a terrible fankle due to her usual duplicity, and Lucia is as always on guard whenever Olga Bracely’s name is mentioned.

The wartime setting works really well, with Lucia and Georgie having to ditch their cod Italian as it’s unpatriotic and a bit dangerous to be thought of as pro-Italian. A Polish phrase book is purchased!

Reading this one made me want to re-read the originals – again. I might make do with watching the DVDs though, the original series with Prunella Scales as Mapp and Geraldine McEwan as Lucia of course.

Miss Bun the Baker’s Daughter by D.E. Stevenson

Miss Bun the Baker's Daughter cover

Miss Bun the Baker’s Daughter by D.E. Stevenson was first published in 1939, written in 1938. The author says in a foreword added in 1973: This book was written in 1938 and published soon after, but although many of the facts have proved untrue it is still artistically true of any little town in the Scottish Border Country and the people are as real today as they were thirty-four years ago.

So far this book has been the least satisfying of Stevenson’s for me, in fact slightly annoying at times as it really didn’t ring true to the era, particularly in Scotland. It’s 1938 and we’re supposed to believe that a young girl would be able to live in a house with just her youngish male employer. She would have been the ‘talk of the steamie’, but apart from that her father and grandparents would never have allowed it.

Early on in the book D.E. Stevenson describes what you should do while singing Auld Lang Syne at New Year, but she did it all wrong – something that drives me mad. She said that you should cross your arms to shake hands with the people on either side of you at the beginning. But of course you shouldn’t do that until the last verse (for brevity the second, third and fourth are usually omitted) when the lyrics say – “And there’s a hand my trusty fiere! / and gie’s a hand o’ thine.”

Anyway, to the rest of the book: Sue has been left motherless at an early age and she is left to be brought up by her rather grim and charmless father who is the local baker. She has had to leave school as soon as possible so that she could become her father’s housekeeper, but when her father remarries she’s seen as a nuisance by his new wife, definitely unwanted in the household. When a well known artist living locally and his wealthy wife offer her a job as their housekeeper she jumps at the chance.

However the artist’s wife very quickly takes herself off leaving Sue alone with the artist. His career is taking a bit of a nosedive as he has started to paint in a different style which is not appreciated by the critics.

The setting is the Scottish Borders, probably where the author is at her most comfortable and so that is always pleasing, but her characters left quite a lot to be desired with the maternal grandparents being particularly unlikely, they didn’t come up to scratch as doting grandparents to me anyway.

This is probably me being nitpicking, but I didn’t really like anybody in the book, and that’s always a problem for me.

As 1938 was a year of worry and turmoil for people in Britain with the onset of World War 2 expected at any time, I’ll forgive her this slightly disappointing book.

Cockburnspath/Cove, Scottish Borders

headland Cove

One day ten weeks or so ago (how time flies!) we went to Cockburnspath to visit Eric and his family. it was the last week of Freya’s school holidays. It’s a very historic area, being very close to the border with England, battles were fought nearby. When King James IV married Margaret Tudor in 1503 he presented the land around here to her as a wedding gift.

Our visit usually includes a walk to the beach at nearby Cove, a settlement that was once a fishing village with quite a lot of houses and families living there, but due to the ravages of the North Sea most of the houses have been swept away, there are only around three left that are inhabited.

Uther found a ball on the beach and he thought it was a great game to poke it over the edge of the quayside and watch it drop into the harbour, Eric wasn’t so enthralled with the game. Luckily he had his wellies on! The bystanders were very amused.

Boats  at Cove

The North Sea has worn some lovely patterns into the rocks.
rocks  at Cove

rocks and houses  at Cove

Although we’ve been there numerous times we had never witnessed the place when the tide was out, it looks so different. It meant there was far more territory for Uther the red and white setter to investigate, and I must admit that I was happy to follow in his pawsteps. Mooching around on a beach is one of my favourite pastimes, why anyone would want to lie down on a beach is a mystery to me.

Uther

Uther

rocks and Uther

The low tide had brought a couple of cockle/whelk gatherers out – rather them than me, apart from not liking seafood – there’s a nuclear power station lurking in the background!

sea  at Cove

Freya, Jack and Eric were happy to sit and chat while I risked broken ankles scrabbling around amongst the rocks.

F,E, J
These old houses are incredibly picturesque and part of me thinks it would be exciting to have the North Sea battering off your walls, but the fact that all the other houses have been torn down by the sea makes me see sense. This one is now only used to store fishing gear nowadays.

steps  at Cove

Uther is the only dog that I’ve ever known that doesn’t like to go into water, whisper it but – maybe he was a cat in another life!
Uther

harbour wall

Scapa Flow Visitor Centre, Hoy, Orkney

The small island of Hoy is a fairly short ferry trip from the Orkney mainland. The Scapa Flow Visitor Centre is well worth the trip. The area was very busy during both World Wars as it’s so strategically placed it’s a perfect place to position a large part of the British Navy, meaning the population exploded with the arrival of loads of sailors and soldiers and airmen too.

This inevitably led to a change in the opportunities of the local females who up until then didn’t have much to choose from when it came to getting married. When the navy finally weighed anchors and sailed off permanently the local females’ horizons must have closed in on them again. To compensate for this disappointment it seems that they were encouraged to take up pig farming instead of getting married. No difference some might say! I liked the cartoon below which appeared in a local newspaper at the time.

Cartoon

The author Compton Mackenzie (Monarch of the Glen, Whisky Galore) owned a couple of the islands and was stationed here and donated his uniform to the museum.
Comptom Mackenzie's Battle-dress

It’s really quite a good museum with exhibits inside and outside, although I’m not too interested in military hardware.

Gun

I was happier with the more domestic parts such as this mock up of a typical 1930s interior, although I feel that they could be doing with a nice 1930s three piece suite, if I had known that I would have donated one to them before we moved, as I ended up giving it to a local college to practice their upholstery skills on.

1930s room

You can have a look at an air raid shelter, there must have been more of them scattered around but possibly they’ve all been filled in again.

Air-raid shelter

There’s also a tearoom, done out to look like it would have in the 1930s, but it was full of people partaking of the cup that cheers – as usual, so I didn’t take any photos of it. They had tasty cakes though.

The sign above the door seems to be the original one.
Church Army Sign

Hoy is well worth a visit. I’m only annoyed that we didn’t realise that the ferry is such a small one with not much room for vehicles, so you have to book ahead, we were too late to book so we just went as foot passengers, so could only explore by foot. Next time we’ll take the car and travel across as much of Hoy as we can as there’s obviously a lot more to see than we managed, going from these images.

Spy Line by Len Deighton

Spy Line cover

Spy Line by Len Deighton was first published in 1989 and it’s continuing the Bernard Samson story. The setting is Winter 1987.

Bernie is in a terrible mess at the moment. As an MI5 man he’s been under suspicion for quite a while. Just as he was beginning to believe that his superiors trusted him again it transpires that they decide that he has been working as a double agent.

In this book he’s on the run from British Intelligence and the Soviet KGB. Luckily he has contacts in East Berlin and he’s able to keep a very low profile.

As ever I can’t say too much about the storyline, except to say that it’s a page-turner and Deighton’s descriptive writing is at times poetic. I’ll be going on to the next one in this series soon-ish, Spy Sinker.

I actually finished this one about six weeks ago but it has taken me this long to get around to blogging about it. I signed up on Goodreads to read 90 books this year but I’ve completed that challenge already, mind you I knew that I would, I just didn’t want to be under stress towards the end of the year, if I had signed up for 125 or so. The amount of books I’ve read so far this year says more about our poor summer weather this year than anything else, I’ve been reading when normally I would have been gardening.

Goodreads

Mr Fortune’s Maggot by Sylvia Townsend Warner

Mr Fortune's Maggot cover

Previously I had only read Sylvia Townsend Warner‘s Lolly Willowes, and enjoyed it although I suspect not quite as much as many people did. But when I saw this old paperback in an Edinburgh bookshop I decided to buy it although I had never heard of it before.

Mr Fortune’s Maggot was published in 1927, the second book by the author. It’s not a very attractive title, but apparently in this case ‘maggot’ means a fad, a whimsical or perverse fancy.

Mr Fortune is a bachelor, he had worked in a bank for years before he decided to become a vicar, he was drawn to missionary work and eventually found himself on a Pacific island called Fanua, hoping to convert the inhabitants to Christianity. I have to say that my heart sank when I realised the subject matter of this book but it ended up being a good read.

Mr Fortune’s endeavours get off to a good start as he inadvertently makes a convert on his first day on the island. A young boy has become attached to him and helps him build his home and shows him how to survive on the island. He makes no more headway in converting the rest of the islanders who are a relaxed and welcoming lot, happy with their own form of worship, each has a small wooden god of their own, a sort of lucky totem.

Mr Fortune thinks he is taking care of Lueli (whom he has christened Theodore) but really it’s the opposite and Lueli sees Mr Fortune as a responsibility. A volcanic eruption changes everything with Mr Fortune losing his faith. Eventually it dawns on Mr Fortune that he is an interloper and that he is doing harm, has no right to try and change the way the islanders live or to meddle with their religious beliefs.

Considering this book was published in 1929 that’s quite an amazing thing for an author to write. Sylvia Townsend Warner was decades ahead of the times in thinking that colonialism was an evil. Thankfully the UK gave it up long ago. Sadly there are still people who believe that they should go out and become missionaries and I have a nasty feeling that a lot of the inter-tribal violence in places like Africa nowadays is the upshot of that.

Anyway, it turned out to be a surprisingly enjoyable read. It may seem like sacrilege to some people but I liked it more than Lolly Willowes.

From the Guardian Review

Edward Lear

Jenny Uglow has written a book about Edward Lear – Mr Lear: A Life of Art and Nonsense. I enjoyed reading the review of it here in Saturday’s Guardian Review section, if you’re interested in Edward Lear’s work you’ll probably like it too.

Short story collections by Ruth Rendell and P.D. James have been published, ideal reading for long autumn evenings according to this article by Sarah Perry.

ruth rendell p d james

Ian Jack has written an article about a book on islands and the people who live on them. Islander: A Journey Around our Archipelago by Patrick Barkham. He visited 11 islands out of the 6,300 which comprise of Great Britain, although only 132 are inhabited all year round.

Patrick Barkham

If you want to know what it’s like to run a bookshop in Wigtown, Scotland’s secondhand book capital – have a read at this article by Shaun Bythell.

Norwegian settlements

Joan @Planet Joan mentioned that the photographs of the fjords and mountains in Norway reminded her of the Scandinavian murder series on TV and I can see what she means although when you’re actually there it just looks majestic, despite the greyness.

Houses, Lysefjord, Norway

But it means that the occasional patches of greenery, the rare places where there is enough earth to actually grow some grass long enough to make hay, are a sort of Norwegian equivalent to seeing an oasis in the desert. A real feast for the eyes.

Green Space, Lysefjord, Norway
I’m sure that must be what makes these wee settlements so attractive and comfortable looking, well that and the fact that they look like something that a model train enthusiast would set up to landscape their train tracks.

Some of these houses are only used in the summertime, there’s a danger of avalanches in the winter and even in the summer there’s danger as some of the houses now have huge piles of scree balancing behind them. It looks like if you moved one small piece of stone then the lot would come tumbling down. I saw a few houses that I definitely wouldn’t want to live in for that reason.

Reflections, Norway

New to me books

For the past couple of days we’ve been back in my beloved west of Scotland, visiting a couple of National Trust properties – amongst other things. A trip to Byres Road in Glasgow’s west end is always on the itinerary and I was lucky to find four modern paperbacks and Mary Berry’s Baking Bible at some secondhand bookshops there. I now have regrets that I passed up the chance to buy a few rare old books that I thought were hideously expensive, because I now know that they were in fact absolute bargains. So annoying – but that’s life.

Early October Book Haul

Anyway, as you can see I also bought:

Lucia in Wartime by Tom Holt
The Day of the Storm by Rosamunde Pilcher
The Town in Bloom by Dodie Smith
Death of a Busybody by George Bellairs

Lots of people seem to be reading George Bellairs books at the moment but I haven’t read any yet. It’s a fair wee while since I read anything by Rosamunde Pilcher, this one is set in Cornwall, she seems to veer between Scotland and Cornwall for her settings, I like a Cornish setting – always have since way back in my Malory Towers reading days, and it’s an awful lot easier for me to go there via books than to travel the 500 miles or so from here.

I like Dodie Smith although – as I recall – I Capture the Castle isn’t my favourite. Controversial? What do you think? And lastly Lucia in Wartime is of course not by E.F. Benson, but Tom Holt is quite good at writing in Benson’s style and as I adore the Mapp and Lucia books and just about any domestic fiction set in World War 2 it is right up my street, so I’m really looking forward to reading that one. In fact it has jumped straight to the top of my TBR queue, unfair on the many that have languished there – sometimes for years, but a few days back in Tilling with Mapp and Lucia is just what I need now.

The recipes in the Mary Berry Baking Bible look sumptuous although with her lemon meringue pie featuring a large tin of condensed milk as part of the filling ingredients it’s fair to say that none of the recipes are for the calorie counters among us. I’m going to have to work my way very slowly through the 250 recipes in the book!

Have you read any of these books?

The Cavern, Liverpool

For some reason I had been under the impression that The Cavern had been demolished years ago, but it turns out that they only knocked down 25% of it, so it was a must visit destination for us during our recent trip to Liverpool with our friends Martin and Sue.
The Cavern

Just imagine how many famous performers have traipsed down the stairs into The Cavern! It seemed a long way down too.
The Cavern stairs

The place was packed out with drinkers and people like ourselves who were just there to soak up a wee bit of the atmosphere. There was a chap on the stage playing guitar and he discovered that a woman at the front had come over from Belfast, Frances was celebrating her 40th birthday and she asked him to play Give Peace a Chance which he did. Perfect for a sing song! And I imagine something often in the mind of a person from Belfast.

The Cavern

I had a good walk around the place, the walls are covered with old photos of the many people who have performed there over the years, not only The Beatles. But it was their photos that I found strangely moving, it’s all so sad that the best two are no longer with us.

Beatles Memorabilia

Fans from all over the world have written their names all over the brickwork. Above the photos a sign says that The Beatles played there 292 times between the 9th of February 1961 and the 3rd of August 1963
Beatles Memorabilia

A very young looking Chuck Berry was one of the many others who have played there.

Chuck Berry Memorabilia

The photo below is of the entrance, which is ‘new’, well certainly not the original, presumably that one was what was demolished for some reason – years ago – that 25%.
The Cavern new entrance

If you’re going to Liverpool, even if you aren’t a huge Beatles fan but are into music then you should definitely make time to visit The Cavern. I think there will always be a bit of a Beatles sing-song going on mind you!