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.
When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr was first published in 1971 but it was only when I was watching the BBC’s Imagine programme which featured Judith Kerr that I thought it was about time I got around to reading it. She’s probably better known as the author of the children’s books The Tiger Who Came To Tea and the Mogg books. I had it in my mind that this book was an account of Judith Kerr’s experiences as a child in Germany in the 1930s – which it is – but I just didn’t realise that it is written from a child’s perspective with Judith being able to recount how she felt as everything in her comfortable life in Berlin changed due to Hitler’s increasing persecution of the Jews. Although it’s autobiographical Judith changed the girl’s name to Anna. In some ways her family was much luckier than most as her father Alfred Kerr had a high profile job as a journalist, he was a theatre reviewer for a Berlin newspaper and was hated by Hitler so he knew that he had to get out of Germany sooner rather than later and didn’t leave it until it was too late as so many did.
A telephone tip off from a friendly policeman telling Alfred that his passport is about to be seized means that Alfred has to leave his wife, Anna and son Max and make his way to Switzerland as soon as possible. He’s gone by the morning and it isn’t long before the family joins him. It’s a frightening time for them all and even in Switzerland they aren’t safe as Nazis holiday there. As the blurb on the back says: This is the start of a huge adventure, sometimes frightening, very often funny, and always, always exciting.
This was a great read and there are two more books in this autobiographical series: Bombs On Aunt Dainty and A Small Person Far Away.
I’ve just requested Bombs On Aunt Dainty from the library, so much for me not borrowing any more books!
A recent trip to that place that I’m not supposed to be visiting – the library – ended up with me picking up four books that I had requested from them and three books from the for sale shelves. Honestly, there’s no hope for me!
I bought A Lovely Way to Burn by the Scottish author Louise Welsh. This was apparently a BBC Radio 4 Book at Bedtime, but I didn’t hear it.
The news of Andrea Camilleri’s death had just been announced a few days before and although I love watching the TV programme Montalbano which is based on these books I had only read one of them. So two have just joined my TBR list:
A Nest of Vipers and
The Pyramid of Mud
I’ll read one of those ones for the Reading Europe Challenge which I’ve been neglecting.
A trip into the West Port area of Edinburgh ended up with me buying two books by an author who seemed to be haunting me at one point as everywhere I went I saw his books, just as another blogger told me they were worth reading – the books all disappeared! So when I saw a whole load of Dornford Yates books I snapped up a couple of them. I was drawn to the modern paperback reprint first as I like the stylish cover. The Courts of Idleness is supposed to be funny – so fingers crossed because I need a laugh.
The other Dornford Yates book I bought is an old hardback from 1946 called The Stolen March. It was originally given to someone called Joyce from Kenneth in Falmouth, 8 May 1947. I love inscribed books but I never write in my own although I sometimes think I should. What are your thoughts on the matter?
I try not to buy books via the internet but sometimes you have no alternative as the chances of what you’re looking for turning up in a secondhand bookshop are just about nil, so I bit the bullet and bought The Stream That Stood Still and The Tree That Sat Down by Beverley Nichols, part of a woodland fantasy trilogy for young people. The other one I already had is The Mountain of Magic.
At the end of June we got around to visiting Largo and Newburn Parish Church in Upper Largo. It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for decades as I could see it in the distance every time we drove to St Andrews. The church wasn’t open though so we didn’t get a keek at the interior. The oldest parts of this church date from the 17th century but there has been a church here since the 9th century.
It was a really hot day and as all of these old churches are built on the highest ground in the village there was a decent view over the rooftops to the Firth of Forth. Originally before this was a place of Christian worship this was probably a place of religious significance for the older religions, possibly some sort of druids.
There’s an ancient stone monument in the photo below, I think this was originally a Pictish stone and when the place was Christianised they carved a cross on it. It’s behind ‘bars’ for protection as you can see.
The decoration on the other side is definitely Pictish.
I’m glad we managed to get there – before the very recent collapse of part of the churchyard wall, which seems to have been caused by the frequent bouts of torrential rain that we’ve been having over this strange summer. You can read about it here.
You can see a lot of old and new photos of the area here.
Fell Murder by E.C.R. Lorac was first published in 1944 but I borrowed a British Library Crime Classics reprint from the library. This is the first book by Lorac that I’ve read and I really enjoyed it. Lorac was the pseudonym of Edith Caroline Rivett who also wrote under the name of Carol Carnac.
The setting is during World War 2 and the north of England Lake Country, an area that the author obviously loved. Garthmere Hall is an ancient pile which is far too big for the Garth family to be able to maintain. Over the generations they must have become progressively poorer and they’re now just a hard working farming family. But they’re all ruled by their elderly father who is miserably mean and doesn’t even pay wages to his off-spring.
My favourite kind of crime fiction is the sort where a body is found almost immediately, so the fact that murder isn’t committed until page 66 should have been a problem for me, but I enjoyed the scene setting. The local police in the shape of Superintendent Layng manage to rub all of the locals up the wrong way but when Macdonald of Scotland Yard is called in his attitude to them and his obvious appreciation of the surroundings gets better results. I’m really looking forward to reading more by the author.
Although the setting is wartime there’s no rationing of food! Those in rural communities who were actually growing food did have ways and means of dodging such things. Something that Macdonald appreciated.
The cover of this book was taken from an LMS travel poster of Shap Fell and it does look a bit dull compared with some of the covers in this series, but the contents are better than many of those ones.
The Summer Queen by Elizabeth Chadwick is subtitled Eleanour of Aquitane, History’s most powerful woman and it’s a hefty read at 478 pages. This is the first book by Chadwick that I’ve read and to begin with I was quite surprised as at times it’s a bit of a bodice ripper. I think on balance I prefer my historical fiction reading to lean more towards the battles fought rather than what goes on in the bedroom or in a secluded corner for that matter. I nearly gave up on it but I will definitely read the next one in this trilogy as I ended up enjoying it.
Eleanor’s mother was already dead when her father went off on a pilgrimage to Compostela and died on the journey. Her father had asked for his daughter to be protected by the King of France and taken into his household. Inevitably as Eleanor is heir to Aquitaine and very rich the king arranges a marriage between her and his son and heir Louis. Eleanor is only about 13 years old, but such was life in those days. Soon Louis and Eleanor are king and queen of France, but what had been an unexpectedly happy marriage turns sour when Louis becomes increasingly more pious and influenced by dubious advisers and hangers on.
As I knew absolutely nothing about Eleanor of Aquitaine I naturally wondered how much of this story was known history and how much research the author had done. Reading the Author’s Notes at the back of the book I was somewhat relieved to see that there is a Select Bibliography of history books mentioned however, when she mentioned using Akashic Records and a psychic perspective to fill in the blanks and explore what happened in the past I was really put off – what nonsense – what’s wrong with using your imagination?!
About a month or so ago we were travelling down to the north of England for a few days, just for a change of scene and as usual we stopped off at the couthie wee town of Moffat. We normally have our lunch there and check out the secondhand bookshop. Yes I did buy a few books!
It was busier than usual but we put that down to it being a Saturday. Just as we parked the car – congratulating ourselves on managing to get a space in the High Street we heard pipers tuning up and realised it was their Gala day.
The wee Border towns have been better at holding on to these old traditions, Moffat choose a ‘shepherd and lass’ each year and they’re in the carriage.
It was impossible to get photos without people in the way but you can also see the lovely cushioned hills in the background, perfect backdrop to any town.
Jack took a couple of very short videos while we were there.
They haven’t got around to putting up a video of the 2019 gala yet but you can see a wee bit of what went on in the 2018 gala if you’re interested.
The Pocket GIANTS publication on Robert the Bruce by Fiona Watson is a slim volume at just 114 pages but if you’re at all interested in The Bruce and Scottish history then it’s a must read for you. It’s a well written explanation of the hinterland of the Bruce family and Robert in particular although what we think of as The Bruce was the seventh Robert in the family.
I believe that the author has since written a much longer book on the same subject but this one is ideal if you just want a better understanding of the politics of the time. If by any chance you get the opportunity to go to a lecture given by Fiona Watson (as I had last May) then you should definitely go, she has such enthusiasm for her subject and brings the people to life in a very human way. There definitely won’t be any students sleeping through her lectures I’m sure!
Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny was published in 2018 which means that I’ve caught up with this series which I think it’s important to read in the correct order. Louise Penny’s husband died before she began to write this one and she didn’t think she would be able to write after losing him, particularly as her detective Armand Gamache was modelled on her husband, but after a while she felt able to continue with the series. I suppose for her it’s one way of keeping her husband alive.
When an elderly woman – a complete stranger – names Armand as an executor to her will he’s perplexed. Myrna, a retired psychologist who is another inhabitant of the village of Three Pines is also named and a young man called Benedict who is a builder. It’s a complete mystery to all of them and when the will is read in the dilapidated home of the deceased they’re none the wiser. Bertha Baumgartner has left millions to her three children and an aristocratic title as well as property abroad. But surely nobody with that sort of money would be living in squalor as she did.
As the setting is Three Pines it wasn’t going to be long before a body turned up and so begins Gamache’s investigation, helped by his staff at the Surete de Quebec. At the same time the local politicians in Quebec seem hell bent on ruining Gamache. The stress is all too much for Jean Guy his son-in-law. As ever you’re never quite sure who the good guys are.
Despite Louise Penny’s loss she still has her sense of humour. It’s the many quirky villagers that bring so much charm to these books and Ruth Zardo with her pet duck Rosa aided by Gamache’s grandson are hilarious.
Breakfast With The Nikolides by Rumer Godden was first published in 1942 and it’s one of her several books with an Indian setting, a small agricultural town in East Bengal to be precise. Charles Pool is a farmer there and his estranged wife Louise and two daughters are just about to arrive from France as Hitler’s occupation was imminent. As soon as she gets to India Louise wishes she hadn’t panicked, but really she had no alternative place to go. Charles is a stranger to them all, not exactly welcoming and Louise is appalled by the filth and disease everywhere. It’s not a great place for someone as highly strung as she is to settle.
Like most of Godden’s India books this one seems obviously autobiographical with the young eleven year old Emily modelled on Rumer I’m sure. Emily has a terrible relationship with her mother, mainly because it’s so obvious that Louise dislikes Emily, she never has a good word to say for her and poor Emily is constantly being described as a liar generally abused by her mother. The feeling is mutual though as Emily can see through her mother’s actions. Barbara (Binnie) is the charming younger child, cheerful and light-hearted, but Charles can appreciate Emily.
The Pools put on a front for the sake of society but it’s obvious to everyone that it’s a fraught relationship, not helped by the mother being more immature than the children. She’s suspicious of all Indians too and always thinks the worst of them. Emily even disapproves of the glamorous Nikolides family.
There is some lovely descriptive writing in this book and some blurb on the back from the Observer says: Rumer Godden is a master storyteller, a genius at conveying a sense of place.
Looking at these photos – and particularly when you are actually at The Secret Herb Garden, it’s quite difficult to believe that you are just a hop and a skip from the hustle and bustle of Edinburgh.
It’s mainly herbs that are for sale as well as some vintage things such as old gardening tools and some furniture.
But The Secret Herb Garden is mainly a lovely place to get away from the city and have a nice snack at the cafe.
We had plenty of choices for where to sit, but as we visited on a very hot day we decided not to sit at a table in one of the greenhouses as it was just too hot and bright.
Vintage cars are used as decoration in parts and the old VW Beetle has been pressed into use as a log store.
We went all around the various garden areas first though and it feels just like being in the garden of a National Trust property, or something similar.
We had coffee and cake but I didn’t buy any plants as – I already had them all. I suppose that proves that I’m definitely a plantaholic!
This is one of those places that we’ve been meaning to visit for ages. If you’re inclined towards distillery visiting you can do that too as there’s one just beyond the gardens which seems to make whisky and gin – as they just about all seem to nowadays. I don’t care how fashionable gin is, or whisky for that matter – I can’t stomach the stuff.