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.

Dear Mrs Bird by A.J. Pearce

Dear Mrs Bird cover

Dear Mrs Bird by A.J. Pearce which has just been published has been recommended by various Goodreads friends and bloggers recently and given the World War 2 London in 1941 setting it seemed it would be right up my street – and it was.

Emmeline Lake has always fancied being a newspaper reporter, really she would love to be a war correspondent eventually. When she sees an advert for a job at a newspaper she thinks it’s a job made for her. She’s so excited about the prospect of becoming a journalist that she doesn’t pay much attention at the interview. She’s successful in getting the job but on her first day there she realises she has been an idiot as the job is actually for a typist, an office junior, and it’s not even at a newspaper. She’s working for Woman’s Friend which is a very old-fashioned publication, but even worse than that it seems to be ruled over by Mrs Bird who is an absolute harridan, a bully and a complete prude.

There’s a problems page with readers writing in to find solutions to the situations they’ve found themselves in, but Mrs Bird will have nothing to do with any UNPLEASANTNESS and Emmy’s time is mainly taken up with cutting up problem letters that Mrs Bird doesn’t even want to see never mind answer. Emmy feels that she should try to help these desperate women and gets herself into trouble over it.

Meanwhile her fiance Edmund is causing problems for her, and as the Luftwaffe cause mayhem in London Emmy and her friends at the Auxiliary Fire Service Station that she volunteers at part-time are having a tough time. But this book is certainly not all doom and gloom in fact it has plenty of humour.

World War 2 is just about my favourite setting and I read a lot of books that were written then, so I was a wee bit worried that this one might not have the correct wartime atmosphere but it is mainly successful although the author mentions the sound of machine guns during a bombing raid. There’s no mention of the ack-ack guns which would have been booming out constantly trying to shoot down the Luftwaffe, machine guns would be useless under those circumstances. Page 196 has some repetition with a paragraph being repeated with the second one having a bit more added on at the end and elsewhere there’s a spelling mistake – just mentioning!

Caerlaverock Castle, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland

Caerlaverock Castle

We visited Caerlaverock Castle when we were in Dumfries and Galloway in May. It’s a great castle ruin with a very unusual shape, triangular which I suppose is a good shape for defensive reasons. It also has a proper moat. I know that if I had lived in a castle in those days I would have wanted a moat so that I didn’t have to worry about people scaling the walls during the night. If your drawbridge was up – it was safe to go to sleep!

Caerlaverock Castle

Building work started on this castle in the 1260s and it was finished in the 1270s, but this is the ‘new’ castle as the old one just 200 yards away was abandoned because it began to sink. It was built in 1220 and if you go you should make time to visit what is left of it, just the foundations really, but it’s still interesting.

Caerlaverock Castle
Below is a photo of part of the castle from the inside.
Caerlaverock Castle

As Caerlaverock is so close to the border with England it was often attacked and besieged. With the English king Edward 1 (Hammer of the Scots) attacking the castle in 1300 with over 3,000 men and using siege engines serious damage must have been done to the walls at that time. The castle changed hand many times over the years between Scotland and England. Most of the castle that can be seen today dates from the 1300s and 1400s.
The countryside around that area is quite pretty, in the photo below you can see that there must have been buildings where there is now grass. That will be even more obvious now that we’ve had such a long spell of hot dry weather.
view  from Caerlaverock
I think this is one of my favourite ruined castles. Just imagine how atmospheric it would as darkness falls on a moonlit night, or even in the gloaming (twilight).

Caerlaverock Castle

You cam see more images of Caerlaverock Castle here.

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

Rules of Civility cover

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles was first published back in 2011. I decided to request it from the library when I had so enjoyed his more recent book A Gentleman in Moscow. This one is very different from that book, but I ended up enjoying it almost as much, but not quite.

The story begins in 1966 when Katey Kontent and her partner Val are attending a photographic exhibition. Most of the photos in it date from the 1930s and Katey recognises one of the subjects of two of the photographs as Tinker Grey, a man she had known way back in the 30s. Katey and her friend Evey were both enamoured of him. He looks very different in each photo, in one he’s very svelte and wealthy looking in his cashmere coat and in the other he’s unshaven and wearing a threadbare coat, very much down on his luck.

Val is happy to see that Tinker has made good, but then they realise that it’s the other way around and Tinker has gone from cashmere to threadbare within a year. So begins Katey’s story of her earlier life in New York with her room-mate Evey.

The title comes from George Washington’s Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation and Tinker Grey is living his life adhering to this list as much as possible. At the end of the book there’s a list of all 110 of them. They’re just normal strictures of common sense or common decency – to me anyway.

I really like Amor Towles’s writing, his characters and his humour, so now I’ll have to track down Eve in Hollywood which he wrote in 2013. Have any of you read that one?

Stet by Diana Athill

 Stet cover

Stet by Diana Athill was first published in 2000. She decided to write this book when she realised that when she died all of her memories would be erased. I’m glad she decided to share them although she has gone on to live another 18 years since this one was published and has written more books.

This one is about how she became an editor and helped to found the publishing house Andre Deutsch. How they went about building up the business and the problems involved. It has to be said that for her the main problem seems to have been Andre Deutsch himself, and she does say that people have asked her over the years why she put up with being so badly treated by him. I suppose it was completely different times for women and she seems to have just felt very lucky to have a job that she enjoyed. However she was paid appallingly badly, considering that she was often hailed as the best editor in London. I suspect that she had a distaste of talking about money and pay rises.

She mentions that in the 1970s she was only being paid around £10,000 a year and she never got more than £15,000. I happened to be living and working close to London in the 1970s and I was earning over £10,000 as a very lowly ‘librarian’ in the NHS.

In part two of this book Athill has written individual chapters on some of her favourite Andre Deutsch writers. Mordecai Richler, Brain Moore, Jean Rhys, Alfred Chester, V.S. Naipaul and Molly Keene. She seems to have got very involved with them and their private lives. I’m not sure how normal this is for an editor. I suspect it’s only necessary when writers are quite chaotic, as they often are.

I’ve come to realise that I’m usually better off not knowing a lot about authors I like as they’re often a disappointment to me in their personal lives. Gosh that makes me sound so judgemental and po-faced – but Jean Rhys in particular was a nightmare! It is a strange thing that quite a lot of female authors seem to have abandoned their children to almost strangers. Muriel Spark did that too and I know that Enid Blyton was interested in all children except her own, allegedly.

Anyway Stet is an interesting read although again Athill mentions Angela Thirkell as a writer that she really disliked. She says in this one that Thirkell is just embarrassing. I suspect that possibly this is because Athill’s sense of humour is very different from Thirkell’s. Or maybe she knew her and disliked her as a terrific snob, which she undoubtedly was, and also no great shakes as a mother either I think.

Anyway, I’ve wandered as is often my wont. Stet is an interesting and enjoyable read.

Montrose Air Station Heritage Centre , Scotland

I believe there’s an RAF flypast today in London, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Royal Air Force. Of course in its earlier years pre-1918 it was known as the Royal Flying Corps. I thought it would be apt to blog about a visit we made to Montrose Air Station.

WW1 Air Hangars

It’s a couple of months now since we visited the small air museum in Montrose. The photo above is of some of the original aircraft hangars, dating from 1913. Montrose Air Station was founded in 1913 and it was Britain’s first military air station. It housed Squadron number 2 which was actually the first aeroplane squadron as number 1 was equipped only with a balloons. The Spitfire in the photo below is an exact replica of the Spitfire that was bought by the local community during World War 2. All over Britain communities were raising funds to buy aircraft for the war effort. There were Spitfire Funds and Tank Funds and they would usually be named after the area that raised the funds.
Spitfire Red Lichtie
The original aircraft hangars are still standing over 100 years on. In those days the most famous aircraft that they were training on was the Sopwith Camel. Hundreds of men were killed during training over the two world wars. There’s a Poppy Wall to commemorate them.

Poppies

There’s a piece of The Red Baron’s aeroplane in this display case. Apparently souvenir hunters stripped it of canvas in no time.

Part of Red Baron's Triplane

The photo below is of a Gloster Meteor.

Gloster Meteor

There are some very talented men making replica bi-planes and you can see them working on them. This is the wing for a Sopwith Camel.

Sopwith Camel Wing

It’s not all wartime aeroplanes though. The photo below is of a Sea Hawk.

Sea Hawk

The museum is run by local volunteers, but they’ve managed to pack it with plenty of things of interest and there’s even a small building full of model aircraft from various eras. This is especially of interest to those who spent their early years glueing tiny bits of Airfix models together.

We visited this air museum after hearing an interesting talk from one of the volunteers at a local history meeting. It was mentioned that as this place was obviously the location of many traumatic deaths over the World War 1 years there was talk of there being ghosts around the place, dressed in WW1 flying uniforms, sadly we didn’t see any though!

Last but certainly not least is a photo of a small display of some of the women flyers (in one of the sleeping quarters) who used to deliver World War 2 aeroplanes to various different air stations all over Britain. They weren’t allowed to be part of the fighting force but they could still do their bit. I’m quite surprised that they were allowed near the aeroplanes at all, never mind flying them!

Women Flyers

Library Haul

I have been doing really well recently at concentrating on reading my own books but I’ve had a terrible relapse culminating in me borrowing five books – they were all absolutely necessary though! I did have ‘borrower’s remorse’ as soon as I took them home, but I got over it.

Haul of Library Books

I went into the library only to pick up one which I had reserved – Rules of Civility by Amor Towles. I wanted to read this one as I really loved his book A Gentleman in Moscow, this one is very different but still good.

Then the librarian told me that Dear Mrs Bird by A.J. Pearce was also waiting for me. I have no idea if I’ll like this one but several bloggers that I trust have enjoyed it and as the setting is London 1941 its sounds like it’ll be right up my street. I’m the first person to borrow this one too – always satisfying.

I’m working my way through Helen Dunmore’s books and Zennor in Darkness just about jumped off the shelf at me. The setting is Cornwall in spring 1917 where ships are being sunk by U-boats, strangers are treated with suspicion and newspapers are full of spy stories.

Stet An Editor’s Life by Diana Athill is one I’ve wanted to read for a while but hadn’t got around to requesting it. When I visited the library in St Andrews the other day it was sitting on the shelf, obviously waiting for me.

I borrowed A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny thinking that it was her latest book but I’ve just realised that it’s one that I’ve already read and it was first published in 2006 with a different title – Dead Cold. I’m so glad that I only borrowed the book and didn’t buy it. I hate it when publishers do that and I can see no reason for it other than they want to con readers into buying the same book twice! At least that means I’ll get back to reading my own books quicker, but I had been really looking forward to being in Three Pines again for a few days. Have you read any of these ones?

Scotland – from the Guardian

the Guardian

Yesterday’s’s Travel section of the Guardian is a Scotland special, so if you want to see some lovely photos of Scotland have a look here for sailing.

here for hiking’walking

and here for eight of the best beaches.

RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show

I’ve been enjoying watching the BBC’s coverage of RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show this week. If you haven’t managed to see any of it click the link if you want to see some lovely plants and gardens.

In my own garden this week I’ve not been doing an awful lot, just dead-heading really as it has been too hot here to do anything much more taxing – and I never thought I’d say that as I really thought that our summer weather had disappeared forever!

I’ve been spending a lot of time reading, so this week I decided to begin reading King Hereafter by Dorothy Dunnett. It’s 720 pages long with quite small print and I hate reading books over a long period of time so I planned to read around 100 pages a day, and I managed that although some days I could hardly put it down so read even more. With the World Cup football on TV and Jack watching three matches a day – a great read was the perfect distraction for me – and it was a great read. But more about that next week.

Bookish thoughts

Over the past few years some of the better known authors have been complaining about the paltry payments that most authors receive from publishers, and I had thought that with someone like Philip Pullman heading the campaign that something might actually happen. You can read the recent Guardian article about it here if you’re interested.

Evidently publishers paid no attention to authors’ complaints as things have got even worse. This is something I’ve known about for years as I do know quite a lot of authors and there are very few nowadays who can afford to be a full time author, it’s best viewed as a hobby for your spare time.

One of the problems is that publishers know how thrilled writers are to be actually published in the beginning and so they take advantage of them. Publishing is obviously a large and lucrative industry, but it must be just about the only one that treats their ‘golden eggs’ as if they are the last thing that has to be thought of. I find it particularly shocking that the person designing the book covers is usually paid just as much or more than the author gets, and we all know how bad the covers often are. The people at the top in publishing just seem to be incredibly greedy, I’m sure we’ve all noticed that even editors and proof-readers seem to be rarities now, so there must be hardly anyone actually on publishers’ payrolls.

Still the price of books just continues to rise, that’s just one of the reasons why I love secondhand bookshops as the books are so much more affordable, but apart from that you never know what treasures you might find, whereas an ordinary bookshop’s stock is usually very predictable.

I know that Persephone books have lots of fans, and I’m fond of them myself but I really don’t know how they can justify charging £14 for what is after all just a paperback in a shade of grey. Quite classy looking maybe – but overpriced.

Elsewhere in the Guardian I was pleased to see that a new book by Helen Dunmore has just been published. It’s a collection of short stories called Girl, Balancing. I still have a lot of Helen Dunmore’s books to catch up with, in fact I had only just ‘discovered’ her when it was announced that she was terminally ill. I’ll probably support a local library though and borrow it.

Having just read this post through I realise that I sound like a grumpy old curmudgeon – not that I’m worried about that!

Trooper to the Southern Cross by Angela Thirkell

Trooper to the Southern Cross cover

Trooper to the Southern Cross by Angela Thirkell was first published in 1934 but my copy is a Virago reprint. I can’t imagine why they chose the cover image for it which is apparently called Self Portrait by George W. Lambert. It belongs to the Art Gallery of New South Wales, but other than that being in Australia it is a poor choice for this book.

This one isn’t one of Thirkell’s Barsetshire books. It is I’m sure very autobiographical as Angela Thirkell did sail to Australia on a troopship with her second husband just after the end of World War 1. This is an account told by Major Bowen who is newly married and taking his young English wife back to Australia with him. He’s a doctor and had been in the thick of it in Egypt, Gallipoli and France, but now the Australian Imperial Army is sailing home.

There’s a lot of humour in this book although the voyage itself is a complete nightmare as the ordinary Australian soldiers (diggers) were well known for being undisciplined and out of control. ‘Borrowing’ was their way of life and everything that wasn’t screwed down was stolen and stolen again. There are also prisoners on board but they seem to be able to get out and about as they feel like it.

Hundreds of men women and children have been squashed into a ship which had originally been part of the German Navy but had been confiscated from them at the end of the war. Knowing this would happen the German sailors had spent their time disconnecting all the pipes and reconnecting them wrongly. Salt water was coming out of the cold water taps and there was no hot water, but steam came out of some pipes. The ship’s engineers were having a horrendous time trying to rectify it all, and the heat was terrible.

Meanwhile the diggers were spending their time gambling and fighting when they weren’t stealing things. According to the narrator the problems were caused by the large number of soldiers on ship who were of Irish descent, of course the Catholics and Orangemen were at daggers drawn and Major Bowen had the job of patching them all up again. He even had to resort to violence himself when he was attacked.

However the women on board were at no danger from the men who seemed to have a respect for them – even if some of them were real ‘wowsers’, and the most violent of men would meekly stand and take a bawling out from a woman if their child had been woken up by them. Many of the diggers were fathers and had missed their children, so sometimes the nursery was full of diggers taking a turn at dandling the babies.

I prefer the Barsetshire books but this was a hoot too, and very true to life I think as during World War 2 the Australian army was notorious for bad behaviour. After towns were wrecked by Aussie soldiers word would get about and ports refused to allow them to disembark – so I’ve been told.