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.

Flame – Coloured Taffeta by Rosemary Sutcliff

Flame-Coloured Taffeta cover

Flame – Coloured Taffeta by Rosemary Sutcliff is a Puffin book which was published in 1986. It was probably aimed at pre-teen children, but I intend to work my way through all of the author’s books – eventually.

The setting is the mid eighteenth century and the coastal south-west of England between Chichester and Selsey Bill. It was a time of on and off war with France and just five years after the failed attempt by Charles Edward Stewart to get the Jacobites back on the throne of Britain.

Damaris is a twelve year old girl who lives with her father and aunt on a coastal farm, an area which sees lots of smuggling activity, not that they call themselves smugglers, they’re known as Free Traders. Damaris is sure that she heard a gunshot during the night and she’s afraid that one of her local friends might have been shot, so she goes out searching her father’s farmland and discovers a young man, a stranger who has been shot in the leg.

She needs the help of her friend and neighbour Peter to get the wounded man draped across her horse and they take him to their hideout in a tumbledown cottage nearby. He’ll have to share the place with the wounded fox that they’re nursing back to health.

But have they done the right thing, is he a smuggler or is he perhaps a spy from France?

This is a very quick read with just 120 pages and it also has well detailed illustrations by Rachel Birkett.

I enjoyed this one, but then I do like stories featuring smugglers as many people do. I’m not sure if that’s a particularly British penchant/weakness or if it’s more universal. What do you think? Pirates are another weakness of course, maybe it’s just that ‘bad guys’ seem more interesting!

What have I been watching?

I have to say that the new season of TV programmes have been very entertaining. I’ve been enjoying watching The Bodyguard despite the fact that ten minutes into the first episode I turned to Jack and said – If I had realised this was about terrorism I wouldn’t have started watching it. But it dragged me in and I’m beginning to think that Richard Madden who plays the bodyguard police sergeant David Budd would make a great new James Bond. Well the best Bonds are always Scottish!The Bodyguard
Mind you I tend to watch anything with Keeley Hawes in it too.

I’ve also been watching Vanity Fair. I had a bit of a moan when I saw a trailer for this new version, it doesn’t seem long since it was on TV in another version, but I enjoyed the book and I think that Olivia Cooke is a perfect Becky Sharp. As this one is on ITV we’ve been watching it on catchup, that way we avoid most of the adverts.

The Great British Bake Off is a must watch and although I still miss Mary Berry it’s really the personalities of the bakers who are entertaining so I’m sticking with the show.

I wasn’t sure about watching Press and after watching the first episode I’m still not sure about it. It somehow has a very old-fashioned feel to it, a bit like newspapers would have been like in the Fleet Street days, but I’ll watch the next episode anyway.

The Repair Shop is a very gentle programme featuring talented craftspeople who can restore just about anything that’s broken and damaged it seems – whether it’s an old teddy bear or a Georgian table. People seem to get very emotional when they’re re-united with their treasures. It’s just fascinating watching people work and having so much pride in the end results.

On Saturday evening I watched a film that was only made in 2016 called This Beautiful Fantastic – and I loved it. I believe that the whole film is available on You Tube but you can see a trailer below which will give you an idea of what it’s about.

Have you been watching any of these programmes and is there anything good on now that I’ve missed?

Post of Honour by R.F. Delderfield

Post of Honour cover

Whenever I finish reading a book I note it down in a notebook, it makes it nice and easy to keep track of what I’ve read over the years and I can quickly tot up how many I read by male/female authors, how many fiction and non-fiction books. A small pencilled Sc in the margin means I can see almost at a glance how many books by Scottish authors I’ve read that year. I do the same with the non fiction – nf. It would take a lot longer if I only had that information on my computer and had to scroll down all of my book posts.

Anyway, I see from my notebook that I finished reading Long Summer Day by R.F. Delderfield (the first in this trilogy) way back at the beginning of January and I really enjoyed it so I have no idea why it took me so long to get around to reading book two – Post of Honour, I possibly enjoyed this one even more.

At the beginning of the book it’s 1912 and the idyllic country setting of the Shallowford Valley in Dorset is still a rural backwater. Horses are still the mode of transport for the lucky few who have them and Squire Craddock, as the tenants call Paul, is still in love with the area although he’s now married to a different wife as Grace his first love decided that being a Suffragette was more important than being a farmer’s wife and mother. Claire his second wife had ‘set her cap’ at him from the minute she met him and before he married Grace and has triumphed at last.

World War 1 is just about to change everything forever though as so many of the tenants and even Paul himself eventually become involved in the conflict, many of them ending up in the mud and gore of Ypres. As the war comes to an end it transpires that as Paul is still a sleeping partner in the scrap metal company that had been his father’s – he has made a lot of money out of the war. Appalled at the thought of profiting from the deaths of so many people Paul decides to use the money to develop his land and properties to make life better for his tenants.

This makes it sound a dry read but it’s anything but that as there are so many quirky characters and of course their love lives and family relationships are all intertwined. I went straight on from finishing this book to starting the next one – The Green Gauntlet.

Post of Honour ends with the beginning of World War 2 and if you’re interested in the social history of the time then this book will be a great read for you.

Random photos

I must have walked past this window in St Andrews hundreds of times but I only noticed it recently. The buildings are generally very old but this is obviously an Art Nouveau/Arts and Crafts window, somebody did a bit of refurbishment over the years.

Art Nouveau Glass Window

Across the road I noticed the stone owls sitting on the edge of the portico. I think that like many buildings in St Andrews this one is owned by the university, so presumably the owls are symbolic of wisdom and learning.

Owls

It’s rare to see an empty street nowadays, they’re usually full of parked cars on both sides of the street, but on their Open Arts Festival in Cellardyke, a coastal village in Fife, the place was deserted of cars for once. The clutch of red balloons being the only evidence of modernity, denoting where an artist was exhibiting work.
Cellardyke

I took the photo below in the fair city of Perth, the hanging baskets and window boxes were looking so lovely. I think the rather grand looking building was a bank originally – remember them?!
hanging baskets

I have visited the small town of Dunkeld hundreds of times as it’s one of my favourite places, but I had only ever been into the cathedral ruins there. The photo below is of the newer cathedral which is obviously still in use as a place of worship.
Dunkeld Cathedral Stained Glass

The photo below is the view of Dunkeld that you get as you drive over the bridge.
Dunkeld From Bridge over the River Tay

After visiting the cathedral I walked over the bridge to get a photo of the River Tay. I’ve never seen it so low before, there were actually people walking out to the ‘islands’.
River Tay From Bridge at Dunkeld

I bet it was still cold though!

The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico

The Snow Goose cover

I’ve read quite a lot of books by Paul Gallico and I have a feeling that I read The Snow Goose a few decades ago, but when I saw this lovely edition of the book for sale at an antiques fair for all of £3 I decided it had to come home with me. It was first published in 1941, not long after the Dunkirk evacuation.

It’s a very short tale, just 55 pages long but has some lovely illustrations by Peter Scott, the famous wildlife artist who was the son of Scott of the Antarctic. A lot of the illustrations are black and white woodblock prints but there are a few lovely coloured illustrations too.

The story is about a lonely man who lives in an old lighthouse on the Essex coast, he has always felt like an outsider, someone who doesn’t fit in to ‘normal’ society. His problem is that he’s deformed, with a hunchback and also has a disfigured hand. It seems that people are unnerved by his appearance. But the sea birds aren’t judgemental and he forms a bond with a damaged snow goose which is brought to him by Frith a young girl from the nearest village.

When Rhayader the man hears about the British army being stranded on the beaches around Dunkirk he decides to use his very small boat to sail over to France and manages to save a lot of lives by ferrying men on the beaches to the large ships standing off the beaches.

This is a lovely but sad story, it feels like a fairy tale or maybe more closely a parable, and I can imagine it must have been very moving for people reading it when it was first published.

How late it was, how late by James Kelman

How late it was how late cover

How late it was, how late by the Scottish author James Kelman was first published in 1994 and it won the Booker Prize that year. I must admit that I find that amazing as this book is mainly a stream of conciousness and it’s written in a broad west of Scotland dialect – no problem at all for me of course, but even so I almost gave up on this one fairly early on.

If you are bothered by ‘sweary’ words then this one definitely isn’t for you as most of the pages in this book contain the ‘f’ word and even that nuclear bomb of a ‘c’ word. Sometimes there are three ‘f’ words in the one sentence, but I have to say that that is very true to a certain type of character and fits the bill exactly for Sammy.

Sammy is having a terrible time, he had gone out to the pub for a few drinks but had ended up drinking so much that he had lost track of time and there were big blackouts in his memory. He has lost his wallet and his new leather shoes and is wearing someone else’s smelly old trainers – too small for him.

The drink has turned him into a violent nutcase and when he attacks policemen he inevitably ends up being brutally beaten by them , so badly that he loses his sight – not that they believe him about that. A lot of the book is how Sammy copes with this devastating situation. He doesn’t look for any sympathy which is just as well as he doesn’t get any. What worries him more than anything is the fact that his partner Helen is missing. He vaguely remembers that he had a row with her but can’t remember anything else.

It was only the fact that this one won the Booker Prize that encouraged me to keep reading this one and I’m sort of glad that I did because Sammy is a great character who takes all his difficulties with stoicism, but I really didn’t like the ending as it just stops and the reader is left still wondering what happened to Helen, will Sammy’s sight loss be temporary – what happens next? We’ll never know.

I vaguely remember when this book won the prize against all the odds. It stills seems strange that the judges chose a book written in broad Glaswegian.

My Garden – Summer 2018

We have had our best summer weather since 1976, that was the summer we got married and I have no idea how well my dad’s roses did that summer, sadly he only lived until 1980 so I can’t ask him how his garden fared in the heat. He was a very keen gardener which now that I think about it must have been an unexpected passion as he lived most of his life in a city flat with no garden.

garden

Anyway, I had thought that the unusual heat we had this year would be just what my plants needed, but although they grew well most of them didn’t bloom as well as usual. The roses were particularly disappointing. I’m greedy where roses are concerned and choose varieties that keep coming back with flushes of blooms throughout the summer and autumn. Despite careful and constant dead-heading my roses only flowered once this summer and they were over very quickly. So quickly that I don’t seem to have got any photos of them at all. It is only September so in theory they might flower again – but I’m not holding my breath, I think they just didn’t enjoy the heat, which I can’t understand as most rose species originate from Asia.

garden, geraniums, astilbe

Flowers quickly drooped in the heat and frazzled, there’s not much shade in this garden – yet.
garden , acer

On the other hand my raspberries did very well this year, so I was surprised when Monty Don mentioned on Gardeners’ World that his crop of raspberries was poor this year. I wonder what his strawberries were like, I had such a glut that we got fed up eating them and I made some into jam.

garden in Fife
The photo below is of the rockery which has been engulfed by a type of potentilla. I bought one plant and it has seeded itself, deciding that the rockery was the perfect spot to settle down in. The bees adored it so I put up with it there but eventually had to set to and dig it up. That was easier said than done for it had enormous thick fleshy roots, especially considering it had only been there for one season. I suspect that they are going to continue to come back and haunt me for some years as I just couldn’t get all the roots out.
my garden in Fife
The Euphorbia Fireglow below is another plant that spreads around a lot, and you have to be very careful when you pull it up as the stems and roots secrete a milky liquid which will burn your skin badly. It’s definitely one of the times when wearing gloves is safest.
garden  in Fife

The Growing Summer by Noel Streatfeild

The Growing Summer cover

The Growing Summer by Noel Streatfeild was first published in 1966 but my copy is a 1973 Puffin reprint and has illustrations by Edward Ardizonne. It was serialised for children’s TV in the 1970s.

If you’re a children’s author the first thing you have to do is get rid of the parents quickly because as we all know parents put a dampener on adventures. In no time flat the four children of the Gareth family are dispatched to Ireland to stay with their Great-Aunt Dymphna. Their father had gone to Australia for a year and had become seriously ill there so their mother went out to join him. Dymphna is a complete stranger to them but they have no other relatives to look after them and Dymphna feels it’s her duty to take them in.

They soon discover that she’s very odd, in fact the locals think she’s a bit of a witch. It’s just that Dymphna is really just a wee bit ‘away with the fairies’. She’s steeped in a certain type of children’s literature – Alice in Wonderland, Edward Lear, Kipling, G.K. Chesterton and such and enjoys quoting bits from them.

Dymphna’s house is a big ramshackle place full of broken furniture and ornaments, she loves nothing more than a sale of stuff that nobody else wants, but she thinks that by taking the children in she has done her bit, she expects them to look after themselves, wash their own clothes, buy and cook their food – and as their mother had done everything for them at home they were pretty clueless apart from being able to boil eggs. An unexpected visitor that they have to keep quiet about causes them even more problems.

I enjoyed this one and wish I had seen the TV serial of it which was made by London Weekend Television in 1968.

One of those strange coincidences that crop up amongst readers is that the poem below also featured in the Angela Brazil book (For the Sake of the School) that I read just before reading this one, and I had never come across it before.

Up the airy mountain,
Down the rushy glen,
We daren’t go a hunting,
For fear of little men.

by William Allingham

Victoria Crowe – Beyond Likeness – Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh

Another art exhibition that we visited recently was at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh’s Queen Street. I must admit that I hadn’t heard of Victoria Crowe before, portraiture isn’t my favourite sort of art but her Beyond Likeness exhibition is impressive, and it’s free to view. It’s on until November 18th, so I might even go back for a second look.

Most of the subjects are successful in their own field, but I hadn’t heard of many of them – which says more about me than anything else! Lots of her paintings are the sort that you could look at for ages and still see something new in them the next time.
You can see more images of Victoria Crowe’s work here.

The Red Pony by John Steinbeck

The Red Pony cover

The Red Pony by John Steinbeck seems to have been published originally in book form in 1937, but the first four chapters – or short stories were published in magazines earlier in the 1930s. It’s a slim volume at just 120 pages and the last story is called Junius Maltby and features a man who is a bit of a dreamer, a reader and a philosopher which isn’t helpful if you own a farm and should be working in the fields.

Anyway, back to The Red Pony tales and these were not at all what I expected. The writing is lovely as you would expect and obviously Steinbeck knew horses well, but really the reality of living on a ranch could be brutal at times and he didn’t sugar coat the way of life, so this one isn’t for people who want to avoid what can be the harsh realities of working around livestock.