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.

Bowhouse, near Crail, Fife

On December the 8th we went to the Bowhouse Market which is held in barns on a farm between Crail and St Monans. I think Bowhouse (Bauhaus) is a pun on the owner’s name which is I think Bowie. For some reason there were alpacas there, I don’t think they’re particularly festive but they were very cute.

alpacas

I got the distinct impression that the alpacas thought we were very strange beings – don’t look at them those two said as they turned their backs on us.
alpacas

After buying some lovely food and drink at the market we drove home admiring a gorgeous sunset which of course the camera didn’t do justice.

sunset  over the Forth

sunset , Fife

It’s obviously a rural part of the county and the road back home is quite a narrow one.
winter sunset , Fife

These houses will have a great view over the Firth of Forth, a sea view seems to be very popular with so many people, and I’m sure it adds lots of value to a house, but I must say I prefer the soft green of hills and field. It probably depends on what you grew up looking at as a youngster. What about you – are you a sea view sort of a person, a hills and meadows fan or do you prefer the bustle of a city and all the culture and conveniences that that brings with it?
winter sunset , Fife

Naming the Bones by Louise Welsh

Naming the Bones by Louise Welsh was published in 2010. Louise Welsh was born in England but I think she counts as a Scottish author as she has lived in Scotland for years and she went to The University of Glasgow.

The setting of this book is Glasgow and Edinburgh but it eventually moves to the Island of Lismore in the inner Hebrides.

Murray Watson is a lecturer in English at The University of Glasgow but his career is not really going anywhere and he has decided to do some research on the poet Archie Lunan who had died in mysterious circumstances 30 years previously. Did he commit suicide or was it an accident? But Lunan had only written one slim volume of poetry and there doesn’t really seem to be any more material for Murray to be able to write anything that would be of interest to anyone.

It looks like Murray’s career is on a downward spiral and when he realises that Fergus the head of the department has discovered that Murray has been having an affair with his wife Rachel, Murray thinks he’ll probably lose his job at the university. In a desperate effort to find out something new about Archie Lunan, Murray contacts the old head of department hoping that he can give him some information on Archie Lunan when he was one of his students. It seems that he can’t but he does imply that the person to ask would be Fergus as he knew Archie well. But Fergus had claimed that he didn’t know Archie at all.

Murray takes himself off to Lismore, the island where Lunan had lived for a while and where he had died. The ‘dry’ island is not a place of joy. Archie isn’t the only person to have come to grief there and during a howling winter gale things go from bad to worse.

This thriller was mildly entertaining but not as good as the other books that I’ve read by the author.

Rosamunde Pilcher 1924 – 2019

I knew that Rosamunde Pilcher had sold her home north of Dundee fairly recently, and that she was a fair old age so it wasn’t really a surprise when I saw that she had died a few days ago. I must admit that despite the fact that Rosamunde Pilcher set so many of her books in Scotland and had lived most of her life in Scotland, I got to her books very late on. In fact it was my German pen pal who spurred me on to read her as she is a huge fan of her books, as so many Germans are. That seems a bit strange to me but there is even a Rosamunde Pilcher trail in Cornwall where she was born and where her earlier books were set, and apparently German tourists flock there for the trail. You can read more about the trail and the German filming in Cornwall which draws the tourists, here.

You can read her Guardian obituary here.

New to me books

Books Febrauary 2019

Nine more books entered my house the other day. I say that as if they did it of their own volition, bursting in the front door like gatecrashers, but I must admit that it’s entirely my fault that my TBR piles continue to multiply. A visit to Edinburgh’s Stockbridge area usually leads to me buying more books although my pre-Christmas visit was disappointing, if I’m remembering correctly. I made up for that this time.

Anyway I bought:

The Cheval Glass by Ursula Bloom (1973)
Send a Fax to the Kasbah by Dorothy Dunnett (1991)
Dolly Dialogues by Anthony Hope (1896)
Excellent Intentions by Richard Hull (1938)
Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian (1970)
Secret Water by Arthur Ransome (!939)
The School at Thrush Green by Miss Read (1987)
Summer at Fairacre by Miss Read (1984)
The Sleeping Army by Francesca Simon (2011)

2019 February Books

It’s quite a mixture. I had thought that Dorothy Dunnett had only written historical fiction but Send a Fax to the Kasbah was contemporary in its day. The blurb on this book says: This highly pertinent look at the world of big business in the last decade of the twentieth century presents Dorothy Dunnett at the very top of her form. Mind you, as it was first published in 1991 and uses the word ‘fax’ in the title it will probably seem quite historical now.

To me Anthony Hope was the author of The Prisoner of Zenda and I had never heard of Dolly Dialogues but it seems that it’s an amusing read – so I could use it to count towards the humorous classic in the Back to the Classics Challenge. I bought this one for £2 but people are asking silly prices for it on the internet.

I always buy British Library Crime Classics when I see them in secondhand bookshops, sometimes the cover is the most impressive thing about the books. So far the mysteries have only been about 50% good and I’m left thinking that there must be better crime classics which are more deserving of being reprinted. I think that Excellent Intentions will be a good one though.

Master and Commander is the first in a series of books by Patrick O’Brian. I believe they feature the ship HMS Surprise, that’s mainly why I want to read the series as one of my ancestors was transported to Australia for sedition (it was a fit up!), and I just recently discovered that he was transported there on The Surprise.

The Sleeping Army is aimed at older children but it is described by Jacqueline Wilson as ‘a wildly original, rollicking twist on Norse mythology.’

The Miss Read books are for when the news is driving me crazy and I can’t settle to read anything that might not be a nice gentle read. The blurb says: ‘She conjures up scenes of thatch, hollyhocks and lovable eccentricities which the world recognises as the epitome of Englishness.’

Have you read any of these ones?

The Peppermint Pig by Nina Bawden

The Peppermint Pig cover

The Peppermint Pig by Nina Bawden was first published in 1975 and it’s one of the Puffin books that I bought fairly recently. It won the Guardian Award for children’s fiction. This book isn’t for the faint hearted as at the very beginning there’s a description of how Granny Greengrass had her finger accidentally cut off by the butcher. Then it’s mentioned that puppies used to have their tails ‘docked’ by having them bitten off by the groom at the Manor House.

The father of the Greengrass family is got rid of very quickly as after an incident at his work he decides that he should travel to America where his brother lives, in the hope of forging a new life for his family – eventually. The children and their mother end up having to leave their home in London and travelling to rural Norfolk to live with aunts until the time comes for them to leave for America. Life there is very different from London, they end up having a pet piglet, the runt of a litter which was offered for sale to their mother for a shilling.

In no time the piglet is house-trained, he’s clever and naughty and great fun, the children love their peppermint pig which is apparently what the runt of a litter is called. The piglet grows quickly, as the children were so fond of it I really thought that this was going to have a happy ending – but I was wrong!

The blurb on the back says: A charming and perceptive story by the author of Carrie’s War.

I imagine that it probably turned a fair few children into vegetarians – for a while anyway!

Mary Queen of Scots – the film

In recent years we’ve been lucky if there is one film on at the flicks within the whole year but this year already we’ve been to see two films – two weeks ago we went to see The Favourite and last week we saw Mary Queen of Scots and I enjoyed it although it is a bit cavalier with the historic details. The Irish actress Saoirse Ronan plays Mary Stuart and she did a good job of it although she must have put a lot of effort into learning a Scots accent, for no good reason as Mary had lived at the French court since the age of five and her mother was French so she would have had a French accent as she lived in France for well over ten years waiting to marry the Dauphin. It was never expected she would return to Scotland but after her husband died the French wanted rid of her.

The film is beautifully shot and I’m glad to say that all the locations are in Scotland. I was puzzled as to why the Scottish castles looked so grim, I swear that at the beginning one of them looked like a cave on the inside with really rough walls that looked like you could have climbed up them. I’ve never seen anything but smooth stone walls inside and outside of castles and of course the walls would have been covered with tapestries.

The murder of Rizzio was much more dramatic than I had ever imagined it to be. Darnley is portrayed as being gay, I’m a bit cynical and so assume that that’s a bid for the pink pound/dollar. And of course Mary and Elizabeth meet despite all of the historians agreeing that they never did meet. Elizabeth’s skin is skillfully made up to show how badly her skin was damaged by pockmarks. I doubt if she ever let anyone see those, hence the thick and poisonous lead based make-up that she wore.

There’s also no sense of all the years that Mary was kept in captivity by Elizabeth – or of her many escape attempts.

Thankfully the film stops short of her actual execution as that was famously very nasty, who knows whether the axeman was deliberately incompetent when he hacked at her neck or if it was just nerves or bad luck.

David Tennant being cast as John Knox was a great touch, I thought he was brilliant in the role.

If ever anyone was in need of good advisors it was Mary Stuart, but either she didn’t have anyone to advise her or she chose to ignore them. She would have been better emulating her royal cousin Elizabeth and eschewing men and marriage, but then we would never have had King James V of Scotland / I of England. I wonder what would have happened if he had never been born.

The Classics Club Spin #19 – The Earth by Emile Zola

The Earth cover

The Earth by Emile Zola was first published in 1887 and it’s part of his Rougon Macquart series and it’s the book that I got in the Classics Club Spin number 19. I’ve read quite a lot of books in this series and enjoyed most of them, I liked this one but it wasn’t exactly an uplifting read. My Penguin edition, translated by Douglas Parmee is 500 pages long and I was glad to get to the end of it, but apparently it was the author’s favourite novel.

Jean Macquart is now working as a wandering farmhand but previously he had been a corporal in the army, a veteran of the Battle of Solferino. When he reaches the small village of Beauce, north of Paris he decides to settle there, he’s attracted to Francoise who already has an illegitimate child with Buteau who is the youngest child of a local landowner. Buteau isn’t keen to marry Francoise but she decides to wait in hope that he will eventually. Meanwhile Jean says that he will marry her if Buteau won’t.

Buteau’s father Fouan is feeling his age and decides to split his land up between his three children who will work the land and pay their father a small pension from their farm incomes. Fouan’s older sister is very domineering, she’s nicknamed La Grande and she warns Fouan that he is making a huge mistake in giving up his land. She’s correct of course as as soon as Fouan gives up his land he feels that he has lost his status in the village, he’s just an old man of no importance now and it isn’t long before his children stop paying him his pension. They aren’t at all interested in him now that they already have their inheritance and they all start fighting amongst themselves. Fouan should have read King Lear.

Zola had obviously done plenty of research into the subject of agriculture and the problems that were faced by the peasants, the agricultural year is described as the peasants work their way through the sowing, reaping and then the wine-making and amazingly despite the hard work involved they always seemed to have plenty of stamina for illicit sex, they were a very loose-living bunch indeed. Under a hedge seemed to be a favourite place for it!

As ever though Zola’s descriptions are lovely and I intend to read my way through all of this series.

The Love-charm of Bombs by Lara Feigel

The Love-charm of Bombs  cover

The Love-charm of Bombs by Lara Feigel is subtitled Restless Lives in the Second World War and it’s mainly about the lives of authors during the war – Elizabeth Bowen, Graham Greene, Rose Macaulay, Rosamond Lehmann, Henry Yorke, Hilde Spiel and various others pop in and out. I think that it’s well known that when people think that today might be their last day on earth they throw caution to the wind and grab what life they can – while they can. All of the authors survived the London blitz of August 1940 and were really in the thick of it having volunteered as ambulance people, firemen, ARP wardens and the like and it seems they really grew to love the excitement of it all. They were just about all promiscuous so this book might come as a shock to those who thought that such sex didn’t exist before the 1960s.

I found the first section of this book to be the most interesting as it’s about the bombing and their experiences, when things settled down and the Nazis turned their attention elsewhere they found life to be rather tame and mundane, the war was just a hard slog and as the authors written about in this book were all rather well off they didn’t have to worry about rationing as most people did, they could always get what they wanted.

There are lots of excerpts from books written by the people involved in this book, but what struck me was considering they were all successful published authors it’s a pity that they had to live the books before they wrote them, instead of using their imagination. Most of them seem to have used their various affairs for copy, they wrote copious love letters to each other but as soon as their backs were turned they were sleeping with someone else and in the case of Graham Greene even habitually using brothels. Yet again I’m puzzled as to why he converted to Roman Catholicism when he had no intention of keeping to the rules, in fact he loved flouting them. Maybe he got a kick out of confessing his sins to priests. But if so then he was sadly mistaken because one of the female authors in this book habitually had affairs with the priests that she had as ‘spiritual advisers’. Honestly it’s all too much for my Presbyterian sensibilities to cope with!

The book carries on into the 1950s when ill health was catching up with a lot of the people involved. For me interest in this book fell off after the early years of the war. I must say that having known a man who was a conscientious objector in WW2 and ended up being an ambulanceman in London, I know that his job was much more harrowing than is portrayed in this book, and his experiences were even worse than those of many servicemen. While others were clearing up rubble and broken glass the ambulancemen cleared up bits of bodies that had been blown all over the place – such as up trees and onto roofs.

Anyway, I’ve digressed-ish, this is quite an interesting read if you read books by these 1930-50s authors, I have to admit that I had never even heard of Henry Yorke and Hilde Spiel, but they were loosely part of the same milieu. I’m quite puzzled by the title of the book because all of those involved were in no need of a war to pep up their sex lives, although it did give them more scope to get on with their infidelities.

After the war Hilde Spiel went back to Germany and Austria and that was interesting, she had done her best to assimilate in England and had been fairly successful. She had had to escape from Austria when the Nazis marched in and she had a harder time socialising with the Germans than the British people had.

I also found the bits about the neutrality of Ireland during the war interesting. Apart from other things apparently they were afraid of being bombed! Rose Macaulay was very lucky in that being Anglo-Irish she had inherited a ‘Big House’ so she was able to go there whenever the bombing in London got too much for her. She was a strange person who believed that she had been accepted by the Irish as being Irish and even had affairs with I.R.A. gunmen, but in reality the fact that she saw herself as being wholly Irish just meant that she was clueless as to how others saw her.

This book is interesting in parts but at 465 pages I felt it dragging in the middle.

Dundee Botanic Garden

I did a blogpost about the glasshouses at Dundee Botanic Garden a few weeks ago and I was absolutely sure that I had previously posted ones about the actual gardens, so I was amazed when I couldn’t find that post on ‘Pining’. Has it somehow disappeared or did I only write it in my mind while I was doing the ironing or something? Anyway – here goes again – or maybe not!
It was a gorgeous Indian summer day but it was midweek and we almost had the whole of the botanic gardens to ourselves.

Dundee Botanic Gardens conifer

Dundee University uses parts of the gardens for research. This area is the genetics garden. The three trees below are Ginkgo bilobas, sometimes known as the Maidenhair tree. I’m sure that I recently read that the most northerly Ginkgos are growing in the north of England – obviously that was wrong as these ones are thriving. I love these trees, they look so delicate, but there are fossils of ginkgos which are 270 million years old. They originate from China.

genetics garden , Dundee

The stylish stone walls are a fairly recent addition I believe.
genetics garden, Dundee Botanics, Scotland

Dundee University and nearby Ninewells Hospital do a lot of very good medical research.

genetics garden, Dundee Botanics, Scotland

There’s a large old house within the gardens, in the photo you can just see the steps which lead up to it. It looks to me like it has been split up into flats, but presumably the Botanic Gardens were originally the gardens of the grand house.

flowers and house, Dundee Botanic Garden, Scotland

And below is the house.

house Dundee Botanic Gardens

Walk through the arched yew hedge and you enter a darkened yew room, lovely shade on a very bright day.
yew hedge arch

The botanic garden is built quite high up from the main road and from the edge of them you can look down on Dundee airport which is very small but fairly busy. I suspect that the biggest planes it can cope with seat about 50 people. The river is of course the Tay and the bridge that you can see is the one which replaced the old bridge which collapsed in a wild storm in 1879. You can read about it here. You can still see the stumps of the original bridge.

airport  + Tay Bridge

Dundee airport
We visited the Dundee Botanic Gardens on the third of September and below is a photo of an acer which was already changing into its autumn clothing, but it certainly didn’t feel like autumn was on the way. I took some more photos but I’ll keep them for another day. Hope you enjoyed the walk!

Dundee Botanic Garden path

Rapunzel – A Groovy Fairy Tale retold by Lynn Roberts

Rapunzel - A Groovy Fairy Tale retold  cover

I was having a browse amongst the books in a nearby junkish sort of rake around barn, the sort of place where you have no idea what you might find, when I spotted a book called Rapunzel. Having had long hair for most of my life I’ve always felt an affinity with Rapunzel so I had to have a look at the book.

It turns out that this one isn’t really for children at all, it’s aimed at people who were teenagers in the 1970s and the lovely illustrations are full of nostalgia – for me anyway.

In this version Rapunzel has been locked up in the bedroom of the tower block that she lives in with her Aunt Edna. The lifts don’t work and Aunt Edna won’t use the stairs so she uses Rapuzel’s hair to get in and out. Of course one day a young man called Roger witnesses Aunt Edna shouting to Rapunzel to let down her hair. Roger is eager to find out who the beautiful red plait belongs to, so the next day he impersonates Aunt Edna’s voice and climbs up the plait himself to find Rapunzel, and so begins their romance.

Rapuzel’s bedroom walls are covered with 1970s posters, ABBA, Kate Bush, Elton John, Marc Bolan and John Travolta. There’s even a Swiss Cheese plant and a lava lamp. Platform shoes and fringed waistcoats feature too. It’s a lovely blast from the past.

You can see images of some of the illustrations here.