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.
I’ve been away for a long weekend down to the north of England, visiting Lindisfarne, a place I’ve been meaning to get to for years – but the tide was never right when we went past, and we also dropped in on some friends who live a bit further south from there.
Before leaving I managed to finish reading Gone Are The Leaves by Anne Donovan. It’s the first book I’ve read by this author and Jack recommended it. She wrote Buddha Da which was shortlisted for the Orange Prize. I really enjoyed this one and although some of it is written in fairly broad Scots I think it will be quite easy for non Scots to understand. In fact those parts are the most melodic and poetic parts of the book with lovely descriptions and I don’t think it would take long for any reader to get their ‘ear’ into it. There’s a small glossary at the back.
The setting is medieval Scotland to begin with but then the action moves to a mysterious castle in France.
Deirdre is in her thirteenth year and she’s apprenticed to her mother who is an embroiderer in the household of an aristocratic lord and lady. Deirdre is a talented embroiderer despite being so young, a talent which would be of use if she joined a convent. Should she do that or marry a much older man?
When a group of young people arrive from France it’s clear that the lady of the house (never named) is keen on the pretty young males – well her husband is very much older than she is. Feilamort is one of the young boys and he sings like an angel. He and Deirdre become great friends but he knows that as he grows older his singing talent is going to be lost. They both have difficult choices to make.
Deirdre ends up in a convent, it isn’t long before she realises that the life isn’t for her, she misses her mother but that isn’t her only problem.
The action then moves to France, to a castle built into rocks by an eccentric relative of Deirdre’s aristocratic employers. They have high hopes that their daughter will inherit from the childless man, but it isn’t as simple as they had hoped.
This story is told by Deirdre, Signor Carlo and Sister Agnes, but it’s Deirdre’s voice which brings the book to life. I really enjoyed it.
I actually ran out of books to read when I was on that recent Baltic cruise, I think I read seven books in two weeks, which just shows you that I found being on board rather boring. I ended up having to peruse the books in the very small library and I settled on Jane Austen’s England by Maggie Lane.
This was an enjoyable read although more than anything it made me think it was probably time that I reacquainted myself with some of Austen’s books that I haven’t read for decades. The author writes about the books as well as accounts of Jane’s life and death and the places that she lived. A previous reader had helpfully numbered in pencil all of what are now A roads whenever two towns were mentioned, just in case any reader wanted to pinpoint the road exactly. There are plenty of interesting illustrations too – as I recall.
Wars of the Roses – Stormbird by Conn Iggulden was first published in 2013 and it’s the first book in a trilogy. After really enjoying reading the author’s Dunstan I felt the need to go onto this series, luckily my local library had a copy on its shelves. The subject matter was something that I knew absolutely nothing about. It begins in 1437. King Henry VI is young and inexperienced, after years of there being a regency as he was too young he is now supposedly in charge. In reality he’s just about as far from being a warrior king like his father as is possible. He spends his time praying, obviously isn’t looking after his health, hardly sleeps and consequently is often ill both mentally and physically. His doctor seems determined to kill him with bleedings and purgatives. He’s desperate for a long peace with France but the territories in France that have been won in battles over the years are under threat from the French.
In an effort to keep the peace Henry decides to marry Margaret of Anjou, a very young daughter of the Duke of Anjou. Part of the secret deal brokered by his spymaster Derry Brewer and William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk is that Henry gives back some of his French territories including Anjou and Maine so they will be in French hands again. This infuriates the English men who had farmed the land for years and regarded it as their own. They still remember the men who had died in battle to gain the land. They’re thrown off the land by the French and often killed by French soldiers, the surviving refugees make for England to complain about their treatment. As they travel towards London the force grows ever larger and led by Jack Cade they storm the city.
Richard, Duke of York has ambition to usurp Henry, but Queen Margaret is determined to keep herself and her husband in power, despite his shortcomings. Margaret has to take over as Henry is unfit to rule.
I really liked this one. I knew next to nothing about this era of English history and I felt that I learned a lot, there’s a bibliography at the back so hopefully the history is mainly correct. I didn’t even realise that there was land in France called ‘Maine’ which is presumably where the state in America took its name from.
I’ll definitely be reading the next one in this trilogy.
Helen of She Reads Novels didn’t enjoy it as much as I did and you can read her view of the book here.
Off In a Boat by Neil Gunn is an account of the journey that he and his wife embarked on in 1937 after he decided to give up his safe job in the civil service, sold their house and bought a 27 foot wooden boat so that they could explore the Inner Hebrides. It seems that neither of them knew much about sailing but they had charts and read books before they set off. The boat that Neil Gunn bought was in need of a lot of work as it was in bits when he viewed it first but that didn’t put him off buying what was a far from ideal vessel. If you look at the book cover you’ll see that the living space must have been cramped to say the least and Gunn’s wife – affectionately known as the Crew had a hard time of it, and wore out her trouser knees as she had to crawl around so much while she did the cooking.
It could be said that the pair were foolhardy in their ambition as if the engine had stopped while in wild water they would have been toast – but they survived. Half-way through the journey they were joined by his wife’s brother who was known as the Mate and luckily he had more experience of sailing and engines although he was happier when he was able to hoist the sail and turn the engine off.
Although this book was written in 1937 I imagine that the actual journey part of it would be much the same today although the landmarks used in the navigation will be very different, but it isn’t just an account of a journey and adventure through beautiful scenery, he also incorporates Celtic and Norse legends, references Boswell and Johnson and highlights the hospitality and kindness that they experienced from the ordinary local people. Sadly the same could not be said for the rich landowners, some of whom had the delusion that they owned the sea and any fish in it and also had the right to steal oars from anyone who happened to have had the temerity to beach their rowing boat near their land. In some ways the new landlords were even worse than those who had cleared their land of crofters, forcing them to sail to America and Canada – and replacing them with more lucrative sheep.
I was unsure about this book when I bought it but I ended up enjoying it even more than Neil Gunn’s most famous novel The Silver Darlings.
Helsinki in Finland was one of the destinations on our recent Baltic cruise. We decided to walk out to see the structure which commemorates the composer Sibelius – we walked and walked – and ‘better’ walked as the Scots phrase for too much goes, thinking we would never get there, but we did, just as three bus tours full of Chinese tourists descended on it. They all wanted an individual photo of themselves standing beside the monument for some reason, so it was quite some time before we could get an image of it on its own. Meanwhile I wondered if any of them had even heard of Sibelius, but for all I know they may have been a Chinese branch of his appreciation society!
I’m wondering if the designer got mixed up between Sibelius and Mendelssohn as it really reminds me of Fingal’s Cave which is the cave on the uninhabited Scottish island of Staffa in the Inner Hebrides which inspired Mendelssohn to write his best known piece of music of that name. you can see images of it here.
Below is the man himself and yes they did all have to have their photo taken with him – individually.
I found the video below on You Tube, it’s his Finlandia, Op. 26.symphonic. Apart from beautiful music it also shows amazing scenery and lots of animals as well as the northern lights.
A Capital View – The Art of Edinburgh – by Alyssa Jean Popiel is what used to be called a coffee table book – maybe it still is but I haven’t heard that term for yonks. It’s sumptuous and features one hundred artworks from Edinburgh City’s art collection. It must have been such a difficult task for the author to choose which artworks to include in the volume as Edinburgh City Council has been collecting since the middle of the 18th century. But this isn’t only a book which focuses on the artworks, it also gives lots of interesting details on the lives of the artists and the history of the areas featured in the images, and of course in lots of cases the places have been demolished and it’s lucky that the artists preserved them for posterity.
Below are a few of the artworks featured.
The Village of the Water of Leith from a Window in Rothesay Terrace by Sir William Fettes Douglas
North Bridge and Salisbury Crags by Adam Bruce Thomson
Plainstane’s Close, 1878 by Robert Noble
The Palace of Holyroodhouse by Claude Buckle (1960) which was a British Railways poster.
Although I borrowed this book from that library that I’m not supposed to be visiting, I think I might end up buying it as it’s so interesting.
Excellent Intentions by Richard Hull is a British Library Crime Classics reprint which was first published in 1938.
This book begins with the prosecution in a murder case and so the reader discovers the ins and outs of the death of Henry Cargate – the wealthiest inhabitant of Great Barwick. He was a man who went out of his way to rub people up the wrong way and never missed a chance to throw his weight about and let people know just how well off he was.
During the prosecution and defence the reader has absolutely no idea who is in the dock being tried. I must say that very early on I guessed who the culprit was and I was feeling a bit miffed about it, but literally on the last page the author redeemed himself with an unusual twist, something that apparently Richard Hull made a habit of doing.
The book cover has been taken from a 1930s travel poster for Epping Forest in Essex. It looks lovely, but whenever I hear the words Epping Forest it reminds me that when I lived in Essex in the 1970s I was told that that was where the London gangsters buried the bodies!
Dunstan by Conn Iggulden was published in 2017 and I was given my copy by a friend who had managed to buy it twice, it’s good to know that other people do that too!
The setting is 10th century England. The king is Athelstan, grandson of Alfred the Great, but the book is Dunstan’s account of his life beginning with his first memories and going on to tell how he and his younger brother were taken to a monastery by their father and left there to get an education. The money paid over by their father is desperately needed by the religious order, but that doesn’t mean that they get special treatment by the brothers. It’s a rough and brutal upbringing, but Dunstan manages to impress the abbot and it’s believed by most in the religious community that Dunstan has been touched by an angel.
He has huge ambition and a love of learning, especially when it comes to architecture and construction and nothing is going to stop him from getting what he wants out of life – but that means he has to become a monk/priest which isn’t something that he’s really cut out for. On the other hand he does have a dislike of women and that ends up impacting on the lives of the other monks who had been allowed to marry in the early Christian Church. It doesn’t make him popular but as Dunstan is happy to sin grievously through his life, being a bit unpopular isn’t going to bother him.
Dunstan ended up being close to kings, seven of them in all and according to this book which appears to be well researched he was very much a flawed character, and that seems very likely to me.
This is a great read, my first by the author but not my last.
I’ve been busy with visitors over the past few days – hence no blogging, and I have such a backlog of things to blog about that I’m cheating a bit and directing anyone who is interested in seeing photos of our recent trip to Copenhagen to Jack’s blog. You can see his Copenhagen blogposts here. He tells me a few more posts are still to come.
Over the last couple of days we’ve had the commemorations of the D-Day landings which were attended by the leaders of the allies and also by the German leader, Angela Merkel. But there was apparently no invite for President Putin, despite the fact that they were definitely our allies and if Hitler hadn’t taken on more than he could handle when he attacked Russia it’s almost certain that we would all be speaking German now. It was a close run thing.
I’m definitely not a fan of Putin, but given the fact that the Soviets lost more people in the war than anyone else, it seems mean and petty to leave them out of the memorial services. So I thought I’d show you a couple of photos of the War Memorial at the top of Nevsky Prospekt which is St Petersburg’s equivalent of Paris’s Champs Elysees or Glasgow’s Sauchiehall Street.