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.

Cellardyke Rainbow

We had a very busy Remembrance Sunday this year, attending the wreath laying ceremony at Markinch as Jack was laying a wreath there. Then in the afternoon we took part in the Silent Citizens Walk at Cellardyke, we have family connections there.

The walk goes past all of the houses that people whose names are on the war memorial lived in, and there’s a person standing outside the house representing them, and they too join in the procession, it’s actually very thought provoking and moving. As it’s a coastal and fishing community a lot of the men had been sailors or fishermen.

We set off in heavy rain, and were all glad to pack into the town hall for the next part of the service. It was a packed house. By the time we came out and started to walk along to the memorial it had brightened up and suddenly a lovely rainbow appeared. It seemed like some kind of sign.

Cellardyke Rainbow

Cellardyke Rainbow

From here the next land you reach is Denmark. In this photo there is also a strangely angled cloud/light shadow slanting down to the left.

Cellardyke Rainbow

Bedknob and Broomstick by Mary Norton

Bedknob and Broomstick cover

Until I picked this book up in an Aberdeenshire secondhand bookshop recently I had no idea that Bedknob and Broomstick had been written by Mary Norton (of The Borrowers fame). It was first published in 1945 and although I’ve only seen short excerpts of the Disney film Bedknobs and Broomsticks, I think it’s fair to say that it must be very loosely based on the book. It was obviously written in wartime although it doesn’t really come into the story, the three children Carey, Charles and Paul have been sent to live with an old aunt who lives in Bedfordshire. This must have been a normal experience for many children in those days as fathers were off in the services and their mothers were also doing war work. It fits the perfect children’s book scenario, get rid of those annoying parents.

The house is old and square with a large hall and the children are quite intimidated by it. They’re also rather shy of their aunt and the old housemaid, but the garden is wonderful and even has a river running through it. The children have a whale of a time, they’re well behaved and all their days are alike – until they meet Miss Price. She’s an elderly lady who gets about on her bicycle, she’s very ladylike and teaches piano for a living, but in her spare time she’s a bit of a white witch. She’s really just a beginner at it and when the children find her in pain lying on the ground in local woodland it transpires that she has sprained her ankle as she has fallen off her broomstick!

She obviously needs more practice. Miss Price needs the children to keep quiet about her witchcraft, the locals wouldn’t understand, so she puts a spell on Paul’s bedknob so that when he twists it the bed will wheech them all anywhere in the world – or even into the past.

This book is aimed at children over the age of eight – I think I fit that description!

Murder in the Snow by Gladys Mitchell

Murder in the Snow cover

Murder in the Snow by Gladys Mitchell was first published in 1950 and then it had the title of Groaning Spinney. My copy is a reprint by Vintage and its cover was illustrated by Laurence Whiteley. It’s very much in the British Library Crime Classics mould.

It’s almost Christmas and Mrs Bradley is in demand, she has an invitation to attend a conference of educational psychologists in Stockholm, it’s very tempting but she has also been invited to spend the festive season in the Cotswolds where Jonathan her nephew by marriage has invited her to stay in the manor house that he and his young wife have just bought.

The manor house has quite a lot of land attached to it and the locals believe that the area is haunted. It isn’t long before some of the locals receive anonymous letters. Mrs Bradley is just the person to get to the bottom of it. The atmosphere is enhanced by a fall of snow which seems to muffle sounds and add to the eeriness. It isn’t long before a body is discovered, hanging over what was known as the ghost gate. The doctor thinks it’s death by natural causes but others aren’t so sure.

The body count increases and of course Mrs Bradley sorts it all out. I still don’t like Mrs Bradley at all, for some reason Gladys Mitchell wrote her as being positively scary looking, reptilian with yellow skin and claw-like hands and her personality isn’t much better.

However I did like the mystery part of this book, for me anyway it wasn’t at all predictable.

The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place by Alan Bradley

The Grave's a Fine and Private Place cover

The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place by Alan Bradley was published earlier this year, but I have seen it reviewed by so many other bloggers that I had somehow convinced myself that I had already read it, it was only a couple of weeks ago that I realised I was wrong about that. Luckily I was able to get it quickly from the library, unluckily I also discovered a lot of other interesting books there that I just had to take home with me – when I should be concentrating on my own books.

Anyway, in the previous book in this Flavia de Luce series their father had died unexpectedly, I found it really sad and I know that that coloured all my feelings about the book. In this new one all three de Luce girls are dealing with the shock of losing their father and the uncertainty of their futures. If bossy Aunt Felicity gets her way there will be even more changes in their lives.

They’ve been persuaded to go away for a summer holiday and as the trusty Dogger is punting along the river, Flavia takes to trailing her hand along the water, of course in no time at all her fingers have hooked a corpse and so begins the mystery. When they get the body out onto the riverbank they can see that it’s a young man dressed in 18th century clothes, a ruffled silk shirt, silk trousers buttoned at the knee, was he at a fancy dress party? It turns out that he’s well known locally, Orlando has been a bit of a problem at times.

Flavia of course wastes no time in beginning her chemical investigations, all very detailed and I always ask my own resident organic Chemistry PhD guy about the chemistry involved, and it’s always correct.

I think I enjoyed this one more than most other readers. I liked that the relationship between Flavia and her sisters is maturing and becoming more understanding, as it should, and also that given when the story is set – the 1950s – when we still had the death penalty in the UK this book involved a miscarriage of justice, which is one of the reasons that hanging became so obnoxious to the general public. I think sometimes that people forget that several innocent people were hanged back in those more brutal times.

12th, December, edited to add – I noted several incongruous words in this book. Although Alan Bradley lives in the UK and his Flavia books are set mainly in the UK his Canadian origins show through several times in this book. Particularly on page 155 he writes that – On a raised platform, a tall thin man with a bare chest, but wearing suspenders, was swallowing a sword for an audience of two small boys who were fighting over a bag of apples.

That word suspenders is presumably meant to mean what we in the UK call braces or in Scots galluses. Suspenders in the UK are those ghastly looking things that some women use to keep their stockings up – and a certain sort of man finds enthralling! So I did have a bit of a laugh over that little bit of description.

David Douglas Memorial, Scone, Perthshire

David Douglas Memorial

I was reading a book called Plant Hunters by Charles Lyte ( I haven’t finished it yet) and I realised that David Douglas – one of the plant hunters featured in it was born in Scone in Perthshire, a place that we often drive through. There’s actually a memorial to him in Scone churchyard so the next time we went past there we took time to go and visit it. It’s quite big! His body is actually buried in Honolulu where he was when he died – under mysterious circumstances apparently. His body was found in an animal trap pit and he had been gored to death by a bullock that had also fallen into the trap.
The photo below is of the back of his memorial.
David Douglas Memorial
As he had been visiting an Englishman who lived in a nearby hut (it was his animal trap) and the Englishman was an escaped Botany Bay convict there has always been a suspicion that David Douglas was murdered by him. He was only 35 when he died but he had discovered so many plants and brought them back to the UK. His most famous plant introduction is probably the Douglas fir but he introduced about 240 other plants to the UK and our gardens would be much poorer without his contribution to botany.

David Douglas Memorial

David Douglas began his botanical life as an apprentice at Scone Palace then moved on to an estate in Fife and from there to the botanical gardens at Glasgow University before embarking on his plant hunting adventures.
David Douglas Memorial

For some reason Scotland produced more professional gardeners and botanists than anywhere else in the past, it’s something that authors have often acknowledged as so many writers of fiction have written their head gardeners as being Scotsmen, including Angela Thirkell. Plant hunters still exist today and sadly in 2013 a young Scottish plant hunter who came from a family with a long botanical history disappeared while on a plant hunting mission in Vietnam and his body wasn’t found until two years later. It’s thought that he died from natural causes after a fall.

Fyvie Castle interior

You can see my previous post on the exterior of Fyvie Castle here. Below is a photo of a drawing room, I think it’s comfy looking, not too grand if you’re used to old places and furniture.

Fyvie Castle Fireplace
The photo below is much brighter though and this is the family room, I imagine that the ladies of the house used this one most of the time for relaxing, reading and sewing in, note the small face screens on the side table by the fireplace, used to stop the heat from the fire from damaging their complexions.
Fyvie Castle Family Room

Below is a very solid looking desk, a proper work desk, not one for ladies to write their letters on I suspect.
Fyvie Castle Desk
If fireplaces are your thing then there are plenty to choose from in Fyvie, the furniture looks Dutch to me but I’m sure that wasn’t what the guide said it was.
Fyvies Castle Furniture

They were preparing for a wedding while we were there, hence the chairs in the photo below, so I had to be quick taking it.
Fyvie Castle Fireplace
While we were ay Fyvie there were quite a lot of really small children there with their parents. One four year old French girl was diving around the place like it was a school playground. According to one of the guides this is normal behaviour for many families – and the parents just let the kids get on and do what they want, picking up objects and jumping on chairs. I thought it was bad enough when they allow kids to do things like that in IKEA! I feared for the Tiffany lamp at one point and was also worried that people might think I was with the child as there were no parents in sight.
Fyvie Castle Interior
The Tiffany lamp is in the middle of the chest of drawers, underneath the tapestry, sadly you can’t see its intricate design well in this photo.
Fyvie Castle Tapestry Tiffany lamp

The day we visited Fyvie Castle it was very hot, I was saying – is it me, or is it really hot? Later that day the BBC weather chap said that Fyvie had been the hottest place in the UK, it was 19 celsius (66.2 F) I think, very hot for the end of October. Two days ago the weather man said that Fyvie was the coldest place in the UK at -7 celsius (19.4 F). I wonder if that was just a coincidence or if there’s something about the location that attracts weather extremes.

I still have a lot of photos of the interior of the castle, but that’s enough for now.

The Sealwoman’s Gift by Sally Magnusson

The Sealwoman's Gift cover

The Sealwoman’s Gift by Sally Magnusson begins in 1627 in Iceland where Moslem pirates have invaded the island, murdering many of the inhabitants and dragging 400 of them away to be sold as slaves when they reach Algiers. Asta is heavily pregnant and she has been captured along with her children and her husband who is a Christian pastor.

Life in Iceland had been incredibly hard, the people lived mainly on fish and puffins – and if they wanted eggs they had to risk life and limb climbing down steep cliffs to steal them from the birds. The summer is very short and not that warm so any crops grown would have been very sparse – if they existed at all. Everybody is poor.

So you can imagine the culture shock it must have been for them to disembark into the heat, scents and colour of Algiers. Asta was lucky to be sold into the household of a wealthy man whose number one wife had asked him to find a woman who could sew well and she was able to keep some of her young children with her to begin with. Olafur her husband is eventually allowed to leave for Denmark as he’s given the job of asking the King of Denmark for ransom money.

Nine years go past and in that time Asta can’t help seeing the advantages of Algiers where the food and way of life in general are much more comfortable than in Iceland, she can wear silk trousers as opposed to the rough homespun of Iceland and fresh water is plentiful, so the people are clean!

She isn’t free though and has no say in her life or her children’s lives, but she does have a friendship/relationship with her owner which begins when she tells him tales that she had learned in Iceland.

I loved this book, Sally Magnusson’s writing is at times beautiful and descriptive, the reader gets a great sense of the atmosphere in both Iceland and Algiers. I hope that she writes some more books.

The author must have been influenced by her father Magnus Magnusson who I remember said that he was steeped in the Icelandic sagas.

My library books

I had been doing fairly well with concentrating on reading my own books – until recently. At the moment I have quite a few out and I’m waiting for one to turn up. I need to read The Chalk Pit by Elly Griffiths before going on to read the one that comes after that in her Dr Ruth Galloway series which is – The Dark Angel by Elly Griffiths.
Elly Griffiths

Today I just picked up The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place by Alan Bradley, I’m really looking forward to that one.
Alan Bradley

I borrowed The Fair Maid of Perth by Sir Walter Scott, I have an ancient hardback edition of it but the print is teeny and this new Edinburgh edition has loads of explanatory notes which I’m reliably informed are really interesting.
Sir Walter Scott

The Great War Diaries of Georgina Lee – Home Fires Burning shouted at me from a display in the library so I couldn’t leave the place without it.
Georgina Lee

Christmas at Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan is one that I hope will help out with getting me into the Christmas spirit.
Jenny Colgan

Sew Your Own Vintage Keepsakes by Lucinda Ganderton has a wide variety of things to make in it but it’s the pattern of the wee rag doll which interests me. I’ve always liked the look of rag dolls so I plan to get around to making one – if I have enough time.
Lucinda Ganderton

The Last one is a book that I’ve already finished. The Sealwoman’s Gift by Sally Magnusson. It was a great read and I hope that she writes some more books. I’ll write about it in another blogpost.
Magnusson

That lot should keep me busy although I’ll have to renew some of them as there’s no way I’ll get them all read within three weeks. But in 2019 I’m definitely concentrating on reading my own books – honest!

Have you read any of these ones?

Fyvie Castle, Aberdeenshire, Scotland

Fyvie Castle
Towards the end of October we had a few days away in Aberdeenshire, the north east of Scotland, just for a change of scene, again we were very lucky with the weather. One of the castles that we visited was Fyvie Castle, as you can see it’s rather imposing and with its pepperpot turrets it has been influenced by French chateaux rather than the more brutal architecture of many English castles.

Fyvie Castle
Fyvie Castle is now a Scottish National Trust property. It started its life as a royal castle though and Alexander II stayed here in 1222. There’s been a castle here since about 1200 but that one was probably just made of wood. By 1296 when the English King Edward I visited the castle while doing his worst to Scotland it was built of stone and over the years it has changed a lot, being constantly extended by the generations of owners.
Fyvie Castle

This castle is fully furnished, quite sumptuous in parts and luckily nowadays visitors are allowed to photograph most of the rooms, but I’ll leave the interior for another blogpost.
Fyvie Castle stone urn
The castle design is now Scots Baronial as many of the previous occupants seemed to have a penchant for adding their own towers, it’s quite elegant I think.
Fyvie Castle

The V&A at Dundee

V&A Sign, Dundee

We’ve been to the V&A at Dundee a couple of times now since it opened recently, the second time we had hoped that it wouldn’t be quite so busy – but it was. I think it’ll be quite some time before the visitor numbers settle down a wee bit. Below is a close up of one of the walls so you can see how curvaceous it is. We’ve watched this building grow very slowly for years and it seemed at times that it would never be finished so it’s no surprise that people have been chewing at the bit to get into it.

Exterior Curve, V&A Dundee

In parts it overhangs the River Tay and I’m not sure if it’s meant to be inspired by a ship or Scottish cliffs, or a conglomeration of both. Dundee was famous for shipbuilding in the past. It looks like a perfect nesting place for seabirds of which there are plenty around here, but apparently they are being kept at bay by the use of sonar.
Overhanging River Tay, V&A Dundee

The weather in Dundee does get pretty wild at times so I hope that the planting has been chosen for hardiness. I think it’s supposed to be prairie planting. It’ll be interesting to see if it survives.
Exterior Planting , V&A Dundee

The interior is definitely different with this angled slatted shingle effect which is reminiscent of an old ship.
V&A Interior

V&A Interior

V&A Interior,  Dundee
The staircase is elegant I think.
V&A Interior ,staircase, Dundee

I’m not sure if the stone of the floors and stairs is natural or some kind of man made substitute, but it looks like it has all sorts of fossils embedded in it.

Interior Stairs, V&A Dundee

V&A Interior floor, Dundee

If you want to see more photos you should click over to Jack’s post here.