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.

Elizabeth, Captive Princess by Margaret Irwin

Elizabeth, Captive Princess cover

Elizabeth, Captive Princess by Margaret Irwin was first published in 1948 and it’s the second book in the author’s Queen Elizabeth I trilogy. I really enjoyed the first book Young Bess and although I didn’t like this one quite as much, I’ll definitely be reading the third book Elizabeth and the Prince of Spain.

The book begins at Hatfield House in Hertfordshire where the Lady Elizabeth is living. A messenger had arrived from Duke Dudley an hour or so ago and everyone had guessed why he was there. The young and ailing King Edward must have died so Elizabeth must ride to London, but the messenger has apparently come with a plea from Edward for his sister Elizabeth to visit him. At first Elizabeth is keen to go, but then she thinks better of it. Both Elizabeth and her elder half-sister have been proclaimed to be illegitimate by their father Henry VIII which leads to the possibility of Lady Jane Grey being next in line to the throne.

As Duke Dudley has recently married his son Guildford off to Lady Jane Grey Elizabeth smells a rat. If she goes to London will she end up being taken to the Tower, never to be seen again like the two young princes in the past? Unknown to Elizabeth her half-sister Mary is having much the same suspicion, but as the elder of the two women she begins to travel around to rally support for her claim to the throne.

This is possibly one of the saddest eras in English history with the young Lady Jane being used and abused by her own parents, something she had grown used to over the years, but she could never have expected them to go to the lengths that they did to gain power through her.

I felt that Mary was given quite an easy time of it in this book as she really became a monster when she did attain the throne and you don’t get much idea of her cruelty and nastiness – all in the name of the Roman Catholic faith. Maybe that will be spelled out in the next volume.

The nursery rhyme
Mary, Mary quite contrary
How does your garden grow
With silver bells and cockle shells
And pretty maids all in a row

is thought by some to be written about Bloody Mary as she came to be known, due to her enthusiasm for executing non Catholics, usually having them burnt at the stake. The silver bells being part of the mass and cockle shells standing for martyrdom – I think. But others say that they were instruments of torture, something else that Mary was keen on.

Covid-19 days

From tomorrow we in Scotland we will be able to meet up with one other household, outside and socially distanced – a maximum of eight people. That seems a bit excessive to me, I think it’s the eight people bit that scares me a wee bit. However I don’t think we’ll have to cope with that many visitors as our family members don’t live locally, and as we’ve been asked not to travel far – mainly because we shouldn’t be going into the house to use the loo – I think it’ll be quite some time before we are meeting up with our immediate family.

Speaking of loos – we had a bit of a domestic disaster about a month ago. While settling down to drink our 9 pm coffee and preparing to settle down to watch something on TV I discovered a puddle of water on the hall floor, while looking at it with puzzlement a drip splashed into it. I dreaded looking up at the ceiling, but it had to be done and it was even worse than I had feared. There were lots of bubbles in the plaster and in two places water had broken through it, it was even seeping down the walls. At first we couldn’t even figure out where the water was coming from but I tracked it down to the en suite shower room toilet cistern. It’s one of those supposedly water conserving push button efforts that must have been designed by an idiot as they have two holes in the cistern, accidents waiting to happen. The water was dripping straight down a pipe so showing no trace in the actual shower room. This is the second time one of them has malfunctioned here resulting in a soaked ceiling below. We couldn’t get a plumber into the house due to the lockdown and there was not enough space to fit a spanner in to fix it ourselves. After many views of You Tube videos and several trips to tool centres (wearing masks) and a DIY store which thankfully had just re-opened Jack managed to fix it. It took him about three weeks, I think he was determined it wasn’t going to beat him. I’m hoping we can fix the ceiling ourselves too, I’m quite good at that sort of thing.

We locked down a wee bit before we were told to by Nicola Sturgeon, it just seemed the sensible thing to do and after eleven weeks or so I’m well used to it, I’m amazed at how quickly the time has gone and also appalled that I don’t seem to be getting on with many of the things that have been getting put off for ages, they’re still being put off. I seem to be brilliant at dodging unappealing tasks! I have been reading a lot, especially in the early days of the lockdown, now gardening has taken over. Our weather has been scorching over the last few days and we haven’t had any rain to speak of for ages, the ground is like concrete. Actually our weather is a bit of a worry as it’s still only May and we’ve already had temperatures of 25 centigrade / 77 Fahrenheit. I think that’s a record for May, it’s definitely global warming.

Our jigsaw season is over I think. If I can get my hands on some fence paint I’ll be doing that instead, in common with half the country. I’m just so thankful that we have a garden to spend time in. When I think of some of the places we’ve lived in over the nearly 44 years we’ve been married (I know, I can hardly believe it) lockdown would have been absolutely hell in some of our early homes as they weren’t places we enjoyed living in, but were all we could afford at the time. I recall the first house we bought which was in the south of England which only had a plasterboard wall between us and the house next door, apparently absolutely legal in England! In those circumstances I might have been close to murder by now.

The only occasional strange thing that I have been experiencing is flashes of places coming into my mind when I least expect it, like picture postcards of places that I love visiting. They’re all rural scenic places, no shops involved. Hills, beaches, stone bridges, castles and riverbanks, but I’m in no great rush to visit any of them soon, just in case hundreds of other people are having the same idea. I have compiled a little list of new places that I want to visit – if life ever does get back to what we regarded as normal. What about you? Are you raring to go out and about or will you take it easy and be safe rather than sorry?

The photos of packed beaches in England horrified me – what are they thinking of?!

beach

The Little Town Where Time Stood Still by Bohumil Hrabal

 The Little Town Where Time Stood Still cover

The Little Town Where Time Stood Still by Bohumil Hrabal was first published in Britain in 1993. It consists of two novellas which are loosely linked with some of the same characters. The setting is Bohemia, some time in the 1930s. The first one is called Cutting it Short and it’s narrated by Anna, a young woman who is married to Francin who is the manager of the local brewery. On the surface they aren’t very well matched as Francin is very serious and Anna is fun-loving, she is too friendly with their servants according to Francin and often behaves badly, not as the wife of a manager should behave. But Francin is very proud of Anna’s long golden hair. When she is setting off anywhere on her bicycle he holds it up and runs alongside her until she is going fast enough for it to flow out in the wind, otherwise it’s in danger of getting tangled in her bike.

When Pepin, Francin’s brother arrives Anna is happy that at last she will meet her husband’s brother. Pepin is a bit of a handful, he has quite a problem with alcohol and whenever he has money he can’t get rid of it fast enough, spending it on booze and the local ‘ladies of the night’. For some reason Pepin speaks with a Scottish accent, presumably the author wrote the character with a strong local accent and the translator, who grew up in Edinburgh decided to make the translation into Scots.

As ever with translated work I’m sure I’m missing things. Later in the story lots of things are being cut shorter by ten inches and Anna decides to have her hair cut too. Francin isn’t happy about that but almost worse is everyone else in the village is incensed by the loss of her golden hair too.

Strangely I also experienced this when as a 13 year old I decided to have my long apparently ‘golden’ hair cut too. I got my hair cut in the page boy style, it was all the rage in 1972. Nobody said anything to me about it, but there were several to my mind elderly bachelors in the neighbourhood who had never managed to cut their mummys’ apron strings, and they were all complaining to their mothers that I had cut my hair – and the mothers complained to my mother. That made me mad!

The second novella is The Little Town Where Time Stood Still, also published in Britain in 1993 but originally published in 1973. The schoolboy son of Francin and Anna is in awe of the men that he sees working on the river barges that he sees on his way home from school. He wants a tattoo like they have, one of a small boat is what he hankers after. The tattooist agrees to give him one on his chest but when he gets home he sees that he has been given a tattoo of a naked mermaid. He thinks his father will go mad when he sees it but while Francin is staring at the mermaid transfixed his attention is grabbed by ‘Uncle’ Pepin who is having one of his mad rants. He had come to stay with them for a fortnight and eight years later he was still there!

By now it’s WW2 but the war doesn’t seem to have much of an effect on the small town. Life goes on much the same. Francin spends his spare time taking his motorbike’s engine apart and getting the locals to help him do it, an experience that none of them are ever going to repeat.

With the end of the war comes Communism. As Francin was the brewery manager he loses his job as managers aren’t proper workers. Despite the fact that he was popular with the workforce they can’t help him.

I enjoyed these novellas which feature quirky characters and humour.

The blurb on the back says: ‘Hrabal combines good humour and hilarity with tenderness and a tragic sense of his country’s history.’ OBSERVER

My garden in Fife, Scotland

The yellow rose ‘Golden Showers’ at my front door has started to bloom again. I had intended liberating it from the large tub it lives in, hoping that it might flower for a longer time if it is in the earth, but never got around to it, also I have no idea where I could shoehorn it in!

Rose , Golden Showers, my garden

Golden Showers Rose, my garden

The video is of a bit of my back garden. It’s very short and I did it mainly to capture some of the birdsong that fills the air most of the time.

Bird song video, my garden

I’m not great at recognising birdsong, I’m a bit better at bird spotting, but one day late last week I was sitting reading in the sun room when something brown flew past accompanied by a lot of screeching from the ever present sparrows. When I looked out the window I saw that some sort of raptor was sitting on the grass, it was Jack that realised that it had something in its claws. I suppose we now have one fewer sparrow around the place, slightly upsetting but I tell myself that the kestrel (?) has to eat too. This bird was like a much smaller version of a female sparrowhawk, I suppose it may have been a very young one, but I suspect it was a kestrel – whatever – we hadn’t seen one in the garden before.

Hawk , Kestrel

Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times

For this week’s Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times meme which is hosted by Judith at Reader in the Wilderness I’ve chosen some much older books.

The photo below is of a couple of my shelves for Scottish books. These ones are all of fairly ancient titles, but ones that I have loved reading in the past and will never get rid of.

Bookshelves

I went through a phase of reading J.M. Barrie’s books, it’s probably about 15 or 20 years ago now. Hardly anyone reads his work nowadays, beyond Peter Pan which is such a shame. In his day he was incredibly successful with his novels and his plays were wildly popular in the theatre. I particularly loved his The Little Minister, Tommy and Grizel and Sentimental Tommy.

John Buchan wrote a lot more books than The Thirty Nine Steps, I have just a few of them really. I haven’t read all of these ones yet, but Greenmantle is my favourite so far.

A.J Cronin was a local GP in Dumbarton where I grew up, although at some point he gave that up to concentrate on his very successful writing career – and moved to Switzerland, probably for tax reasons. But he still supported the local football team. Possibly his best known book is The Spanish Gardener which was made into a film starring Dirk Bogarde. It’s well worth watching too.

O. Douglas who was also known as Anna Buchan was John Buchan’s sister. Her books are real comfort reads, a step back to what seemed to be a simpler time, on the surface anyway. Like many Scottish female novelists she often writes about the making of a home and there’s usually a group of children to be loved by someone who isn’t a mother, but becomes a mother figure. One little boy is usually absolutely adored. I couldn’t help thinking that it was a real pity that Anna Buchan never married and had children, but she wrote her own families, which might have been some solace I suppose.

These authors are all well worth reading and Anna Buchan, John Buchan and J.M. Barrie’s books are available on Project Gutenberg, it’s strange that Cronin’s aren’t, but maybe they are still in copyright.

New York – a jigsaw puzzle

We bought a big box of jigsaw puzzles which contained four puzzles of cities – Venice, Moscow, London and New York. We started the last of them, the New York puzzle, earlier in the week.

New York Jigsaw (Unfinished)

We finished it today and had a bit of a panic when it seemed that the last piece was missing. Jack got the torch to have a close look at the large Persian style rug, still the piece wasn’t found. Cushions, throws and such were shaken, no luck. Eventually he tipped a sofa back and there it was, how did it get under there? Anyway, I generously said that he could fit it in, but he insisted we each put a finger on a corner of it to slide it into place.

Jigsaw, New York

I’m not sure if we’ll get any more puzzles to do, obviously they would have to be bought online at the moment.

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

The Master and Margarita

TracyK of Bitter Tea and Mystery and I decided to read this book, it was on our Classics Club lists and it was a good way of making sure that I got around to reading it anyway. You can read her thoughts on the book here.
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov was first published in 1966. My copy was translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky in 1997.

This is a strange read and I can imagine that a lot of people might have given up on it, but I persevered as usual and thankfully ended up liking it.

It begins in Moscow where two men are sitting on a bench in Patriarch’s Ponds. One is a poet who has written a novel about Jesus and the other is an editor, soon they are joined by a foreigner, they can’t make up their minds whether he’s French – or maybe Polish. The foreigner tells one of the men how he will die. It seems so preposterous that they don’t take him seriously, but in no time the horrible prediction is fulfilled. The stranger was of course the Devil. He has red hair, as do lots of the characters in this book, and he has a large talking cat as a companion. They pose as a stage act in a Moscow theatre, supposedly illusionists and hypnotists, causing mayhem and becoming the talk of the city. There’s even a witch on a broomstick.

From time to time the book flips back to Judea – the poet’s novel. Pontius Pilate has been forced to condemn Jesus (Yeshua Ha-Nozri of Yershalaim ) to death because he was supposedly overheard complaining about the Romans. Pilate knows that the whole thing is just a way of getting rid of Yeshua who is seen as being a problem to some. It plays on his conscience. The author has never been able to get his novel published. He is The Master of the title and his married lover is Margarita. In despair he burns his manuscript.

Meanwhile there are lots of glimpses into how life is lived or endured in Russia. Neighbours denounce each other, with the death of one character so many people have their eyes on his flat, how can they get it for themselves? Communal kitchens are a way of life and you can’t get away from your neighbours.

As ever with translated books, and particularly when communist regimes are concerned, I have the feeling that I’m only getting the book on one level. I’m sure that for people who lived through those times there would be so many hidden allusions, and probably a lot of missed humour as humour seems to be the way people cope with adversity. It seems that despite communism, and with religion being frowned upon by the authorities, it didn’t stop people from knowing the bible well it would seem. This book even has four horsemen in it (as in the apocalypse?) – even though one is a woman.

I liked this one, despite the fact that for some reason Bulgakov gave all the ‘bad guys’ red hair – and there are an awful lot of them, so it was obviously not coincidence.

Apparently Bulgakov himself burned one of his manuscripts for fear of the consequences if it was found in his possession, though I believe there were copies elsewhere.

Balbirnie Woodland Walk

It’s time for another wee walk in the Balbirnie Estate, Fife – socially distanced of course!

Balbirnie Path and burn

The burn (stream) in the photos is variously called Balbirnie Burn or the Back Burn. It’s a lovely thing but quite devoid of wildlife. The problem apparently is that there is too much sediment in it and not enough gravel for fish to lay eggs in. There was going to be a project to try to rectify that problem, but that may be on the back burner now due to all the costs of the lockdown to the local council.

Balbirnie Path and burn, Markinch, Fife

Like many old estates this place was well known for rhododendrons, there was a bit of a craze for them in Victorian times and Balbirnie has some unusual and very old specimens.

Balbirnie Path and rhoddies

Strangely the reddest rhoddies seem to bloom first, but I prefer the paler colours.

Balbirnie Path and rhoddies, Markinch, Fife

Balbirnie Path and rhoddies

The ferns below must be the most elegant variety growing in the UK. There are big pockets of these ones around the woodland in Balbirnie, I think they’re called shuttlecock ferns.

Ferns Balbirnie Park, ferns, Markinch, Fife

Ferns, Balbirnie, Fife

There was a tall cherry tree still in blossom. It’s a shame that it never gets warm enough here for the fruits to ripen properly.

Blossoming Trees, Balbirnie, Fife

Rhoddy flower, Balbirnie

Walking in a big loop we reached the ‘big hoose’ again and as the hotel is closed for the duration, like everywhere else we slipped through the gardens and I took a photo of the small Magnolia below, I believe the variety is stellata but the photo isn’t as good as I hoped it would be so it’s not that clear.

Magnolia (stellata)

I hope you enjoyed your walk in the woodlands. It wasn’t as empty of people as you might imagine. We had never seen it busier; usually we have almost the whole place to ourselves but people who never before exercised aroud this area are now making good use of the place. There was even an ex-leader of the Scottish Labour Party out and about.

Glitter of Mica by Jessie Kesson

Glitter of Mica cover

Glitter of Mica by the Scottish author Jessie Kesson was first published in 1963. Previously I’ve read Another Time Another Place and The White Bird Passes and I enjoyed those ones but I didn’t like this one nearly as much.

The setting is rural Aberdeenshire in the north-east of Scotland, the parish of Caldwell and the book begins in the 1930s. Hugh Riddell is a farm worker who is never kept on after his year of contracted work is up, which means that every year he has to find a new job in the area at a different farm. His wife is sick fed up with the constant moving, she can’t even plant a garden as she would be working for whoever would take over the tied house that goes with the farm work. They had a son, also Hugh and it’s his family that this book is mainly involved with.

The marriage of Hugh and his wife Isa isn’t any more successful than that of his parents, Hugh despises Isa and she seems afraid of him, they did manage to produce a daughter though, Helen does well at school and goes to university, but her mother is disappointed that she is only doing a diploma in social sciences and won’t come back with the MA that past ‘scholars’ have attained.

Helen gets work as a youth worker and unknown to her father starts a relationship with Charlie Anson, someone else that Hugh despises. As you can imagine it all ends in tears.

There are some flashes of humour in this book such as ….for she was a tight woman and had she been a ghost she would have grudged giving you a fright.

The characters in this book remind me, if I ever needed to be reminded of why I am ‘pining for the west’ as they are almost all miserable and mean spirited and are their own worst enemies. Love doesn’t seem to enter into anyone’s life, people get married because they have to marry someone and quickly go right off them it seems. There’s only one character who seems to have any human warmth – and she’s the talk of the place – being a wee bit too friendly with some of the local men. But the women have to admit that she always hangs out a ‘bonnie white washing.’ High praise indeed among the women.

This is supposedly Jessie Kesson’s best book but I just found it too depressing, I have no doubts that it is a very true portrait of the area and the times. Some readers wallow in misery, but it’s not for me

You can read what Jack thought of the book here.

Jigsaw puzzle – London

The lastest 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle that we’ve completed in these strange pandemic times is one of London which I really enjoyed doing.

London jigsaw puzzle

There’s a lot of reflection here but you can probably see that it’s the Thames, embankment and the Houses of Parliament and St Stephen’s Tower. Now we’re doing the New York puzzle, so far so good but we’re just completing the edges. I may have to resort to the internet for more puzzles as this one is the last one we have to complete. When I bought them I thought they would do nicely to pass the time on cold and dreary winter days, but obviously then I had no idea we would all be in lockdown and stuck at home. I’m so glad I bought them as there’s only so much reading and TV watching that you can do in any one day.

London jigsaw puzzle