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.

High Wages by Dorothy Whipple – Classics Club list

 High Wages cover

I’ve had High Wages by Dorothy Whipple on my Classics Club second list for ages, despite the fact that I know so many people have loved it. The thickness of my edition was putting me off I think, unusually for me it’s a first edition which I just about fell over in an antiques shop which only had a couple of books in it, it cost me all of £2, I felt so lucky as I had been meaning to get the book for ages and just hadn’t got around to ordering it.

Anyway, I loved this one which begins with Jane Carter visiting the small town of Tidsley on her half-day off. She works in a draper’s shop in a nearby town but she’s drawn to a notice which has just been put in the window of another draper’s shop. They’re looking for a new assistant and Jane plucks up the courage to go in and enquire about the job. She’s successful, and so begins her new life. There’s no doubting that Jane is ambitious and has a good business mind, and she improves the business for the owner Mr Chadwick, but he is not at all grateful and exploits her financially. That just encourages Jane to long even more to have a shop of her own.

Whipple captures the small town atmosphere so well, with the gossip and snobbery, clandestine relationships and unrequited love. The characters are all so recognisable, and although Jane is a very likeable person, she’s not perfect – and she knows it.

The tale begins in 1913 so it isn’t long before WW1 changes things in the town although it doesn’t play a huge part in the book. I was amused to see quite a lot of mentions of aspidistra plants in this book, especially after reading George Orwell’s Keep the Aspidistra Flying recently.

I’ve only read one other book by Dorothy Whipple – Someone at a Distance – which I did enjoy (twice inadvertently as I had forgotten I had read it some years before!!) I’m sure that High Wages will stay with me much longer. I read this one for the Classics Club. Sadly my 1930 copy of the book doesn’t have the dust cover.

20 Books of Summer 2021

It’s Cathy’s 20 Books of Summer time again. Last year I managed to finish all twenty on my list so I hope I’ll be able to do as well this year. Mind you last year due to the pandemic there was no distracting holiday time, we’ll be staying fairly local this year, but all going well we’ll be out and about more, visiting people and actually having friends around, I’ll just have to see how it goes reading time wise. These books have almost all been languishing on my shelves unread for a good wee while, but a few are quite new to me and a few were written with children in mind, a few are real chunksters. There are only a couple of crime/espionage books, this is because I read those ones almost as soon as they get into the house – I need to get more! Have you read any of these ones?

1. Mamma by Diana Tutton
2. The Spring of the Ram by Dorothy Dunnett
3. The New House Captain by Dorita Fairlie Bruce
4. Julia by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles
5. Henrietta’s House by Elizabeth Goudge
6. Tortoise by Candlelight by Nina Bawden
7. The Fascinating Hat by Isabel Cameron
8. The School at the Chalet by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer
9. Lightly Poached by Lillian Beckwith
10. Appleby’s Answer by Michael Innes
11. The Feast by Margaret Kennedy
12. The Women of Troy by Pat Barker
13. Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian
14. The Shield Ring by Rosemary Sutcliff
15. White Boots by Noel Streatfeild
16. Neither Five Nor Three by Helen MacInnes
17. bag and baggage by Judy Allen
18. After a Dead Dog by Colin Murray
19. Cross Gaits by Isabel Cameron
20. The Grove of Eagles by Winston Graham

The Victorian Chaise-Longue by Marghanita Laski

The Victorian Chaise-Longue cover

The Victorian Chaise-Longue by Marghanita Laski was first published in 1953 but my copy is a Persephone which was published in 1999, it has a preface by P.D.James. It’s a bit of a creepy tale in parts but I enjoyed it.

Melanie is a a pampered young mother, adored by her husband Guy, she has led an easy life but she now has a health problem and fears that she might die. She has tuberculosis and her baby son is being kept away from her while she recovers, but Melanie can’t help fearing that she may not recover, but it’s 1950s London and her doctor expects her to make a full recovery.

Before she had her son she had been mooching around an antique shop looking for the perfect crib for her baby, but it was an old Victorian chaise-longue that called to her to buy it, despite it being rather large and ugly, she was drawn to the Berlin woolwork rose design upholstery although it is a bit stained.

When Melanie’s doctor allows her to leave her bedroom for a change of scene she moves to the drawing room, the chaise-longue is seen as the ideal place for her to rest, and so begins her nightmare. When she wakes up after having a nap Melanie thinks she may still be asleep. Her clothes are different and there’s a strange woman in the room, Adelaide is a cruel and nasty woman who calls her Milly. She’s still on the chaise-longue but it’s in a different room – a real Victorian room – and she still has tuberculosis, a death sentence in Victorian times, and Adelaide seems intent on hounding her to death.

This is a very quick read at just 99 pages, it’s not a comfortable read but it gives you plenty to think about. I have my suspicions about how that stain got there!

St Nicholas, Churchyard, Cramlington, Northumberland

St Nicholas Church, Cramlington, Northumberland

Last week we decided to visit some friends down in the north-east of England, now that we’re allowed to travel outside our immediate area again. Cramlington Village was one of the places we wanted to visit down there as Jack has a very old book with his great-grandfather’s name written in it – in copperplate – Armstrong Besford, Cramlington. Sadly he didn’t write his whole address. Anyway, we made for Cramlington which seems to have expanded a lot in recent years, but we reached the old village, parked the car and had a walk around the St Nicholas Church graveyard, in the hope that we might find a family gravestone there, and Jack found it! The church dates from 1868 but many of the gravestones were older than that, obviously the original older church had been built onto in Victorian times, as often happened.

Besford Grave, Cramlington, Northumberland Village,
I must admit I thought it might be a bit unlikely as Armstrong moved to Scotland, I thought maybe the whole family had.

Anyway, the gravestone tells the story of what happened to John Besford. He was run over by a train on Stannington viaduct!! The mind boggles. You can imagine how devastating that must have been for the family though, and his wee daughter followed him just a year later. Annie was obviously a bad luck name for that family as the Annie in the following generation also died very young, that was Jack’s granny’s older sister.

St Nicholas Church, Cramlington, Northumberland

It drives me mad that gravestones in England only have a woman’s married surname on it. In Scotland we traditionally put the woman’s maiden name on the inscription. An old English friend of mine had assumed that none of the women were actually married to the ‘husbands’ in the inscriptions. As if – in Presbyterian Scotland! Having the woman’s maiden name there makes it so much more interesting and easier for people tracing family trees.

St Nicholas Churchyard, Cramlington, Northumberland
Anyway, it was interesting to know a bit more about family history, it’s a shame we couldn’t get into the church though.

St Nicholas Church, Cramlington, Northumberland

Never Greater Slaughter by Michael Livingston

Never Greater Slaughter by Michael Livingston which has a foreword by Bernard Cornwell is a really good read if you’re interested in the history of Britain. About half of the book is about the run up to the Battle of Brunanburh which according to history was a horrendous 10th century battle which left thousands dead in a battle which lasted a very long time, possibly all day. Most well known battles were over and done with in a very short time. With an alliance of Irish, Scots and Vikings intent on fighting the English, and putting an end to English power, it’s easy to see what the outcome was as the English still hold that power. It was King Athelstan, King Alfred’s grandson who won the battle, but it was a close run thing.

Strangely the actual site of the battle had been lost and apparently there has been lots of speculation over the years, there’s been very little written about the battle, just some poems and accounts by unreliable sources written long after the battle took place. Michael Livingston’s research seems very reasonable to me and the upshot is that the most likely location of Brunanburh is the Wirral. If you drive on the motorway towards Birkenhead then look to your left between Exits Four and Three – that’s the lost battlefield of Brunanburh. However, the author has obviously incensed people who are equally sure that the battle was fought in several other locations.

This was a really good read, not at all dry as some history books can be, it was published by Osprey and I was sent a digital copy of the book via NetGalley. For some reason all of the numbers in the text only appeared as hieroglyphics, which is a bit of a drawback for a history book and I presume that this will eventually be rectified.

Another Little Christmas Murder by Lorna Nicholl Morgan

Another Little Christmas Murder by Lorna Nicholl Morgan was first published in 1947 and then it was titled Another Little Murder. It’s a bit cheeky of the new publisher littlebrown to stick in the word ‘Christmas’ as the book has nothing to do with the Christmas season although it is set in a very snowy Swaledale, Yorkshire.

Dilys Hughes is an optimistic young woman, she would have to be given that she drives around in a very unreliable car. She’s a commercial traveller, dealing in ointments and rubbing oils to cure rheumatics and such. She also helps to develop the medicines.

On her journey through Yorkshire the wintry weather gets worse and worse and she ends up stuck in snow. Settling down to wait for a lift from a passing motorist, it isn’t long before one turns up. Inigo Brown is driving to visit his father after receiving a letter from him. His father had recently married Theresa, a much younger woman, and Inigo has yet to meet her.

Inigo invites Dilys to stay at his father’s large remote house, as her car is well and truly stuck in the snow. Almost as soon as they get there various other refugees from the weather turn up needing food and shelter, and Theresa seems happy to cater for them all, but strange things begin to happen and some of the other guests are very odd.

This was enjoyable although at times I had trouble keeping track of all the male characters as they arrived, that was probably my fault though.

I hadn’t heard of Lorna Nicholl Morgan before. Apparently she only wrote four books. She was born in England in 1913 but moved to America in 1954. All four of her books were published in the 1940s and she doesn’t seem to have published any more after emigrating, unless she used another name.

Tension by E.M. Delafield

Tension by E.M. Delafield was first published in 1920 but has just been reprinted by British Library. It has a preface by Lucy Evans and an afterword by Simon Thomas of Stuck in a Book.

Sir Julian Rossiter is the director of a small private college. His wife Lady Rossiter is a rather overbearing woman who seems to regard the teachers of the establishment to be somehow under her supervision. She’s forever poking her nose in where it isn’t wanted. When a new superintendent of shorthand and typing is employed at the college Lady Rossiter realises that it’s someone that a male relative of hers had been involved with in the past, and she doesn’t approve of Miss Marchrose at all. She feels that she treated her relative very badly.

But Miss Marchrose is very good at her job and popular with everyone at the college, especially with Mark Easter who is rather a favourite with Lady Rossiter. Frankly she’s jealous and decides to instigate a campaign to get rid of Miss Marchrose, dripping poison about her into the ears of the other teachers, one by one.

There’s no getting away from it, Edna, Lady Rossiter is a ghastly human being with no empathy for a woman who was in the same boat as she had been in the past, but marriage to Sir Julian had put all such thoughts out of her head, and had led to her developing a horrible sense of superiority.

However it isn’t just the women who had been in a similar situation. Three of the male characters had taken the plunge and had at some point proposed marriage just because they felt sorry for a woman. It isn’t a good basis for a successful marriage, but Sir Julian has perfected the art of withdrawing from marital life as much as possible – anything for a quite life! Lady Rossiter mentions that they never argue, not realising that that is proof of their estrangement. I must admit that I always shudder whenever people boast of never having had an argument with their spouse as it means that one of the couple is a doormat, or frightened to voice their own opinions – or they just don’t care enough to bother to communicate.

This makes the book sound a bit of a drag but it really isn’t, there’s quite a lot of humour in it, although not at the same level as Delafield’s Provincial Lady books. I particularly enjoyed the company of Mark’s two young children Ruthie and her younger brother Ambrose, known to Ruthie as Peekaboo. Ruthie does a lot of excited hopping on one leg, I could just see her doing it, and poor wee Ambrose – bossed around by Ruthie – is charming, sticky hands and all!

I was sent a copy of this book for review by British Library and as a fan of the Provincial Lady books I was very happy to do so. This was a very different read which was at times infuriating, but that just proves what a good writer Delafield was.

Rhododendrons in Balbirnie

Rhododendrons, Balbirnie, Fife

Rhododendrons, Balbirnie Park, Fife

As we’re now allowed to travel out of our immediate locality for the first time in what seemed like a very long time we decided to go to visit some old friends a couple of hundred miles away, very carefully of course and keeping well away from other people. It was lovely just to have a change of scene, but two days away from home seemed like enough for us at the moment.

Rhododendrons, Balbirnie, Fife

Anyway, before we left home I took some photos of the local rhododendrons which are looking really good at the moment. These plants are growing in what was a private estate and would probably have been planted in Victorian times. Some of them have a beautiful scent, which I think is quite rare with rhoddies. But in my own garden it’s the apple blossom that is most attractive at the moment, because of the freezing cold weather we’ve been having it has been flowering for weeks, it remains to be seen if we will actually get any apples from the tree though as it’s to be just above freezing tonight – in the middle of May!

Apple blossom, my garden

The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen retold by Naomi Lewis

The Snow Queen cover

One book that I forgot to mention when I blogged about the books I had bought in Edinburgh last week is The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen retold by Naomi Lewis and illustrated by Christian Birmingham. I must say that I bought the book just for the beautiful illustrations, I don’t think I had seen any of Christian Birmingham’s work before. So the fact that I wasn’t struck by the re-writing by Naomi Lewis doesn’t matter so much to me, it’s enough to be able to just admire the beautiful artwork, some of which you can see here.

His style seems perfect for this subject as his illustrations have such a lovely ethereal quality.

The House of the Pelican by Elisabeth Kyle

 The House of the Pelican cover

The House of the Pelican by Elisabeth Kyle was published in 1954 and is illustrated by Peggy Fortnum who is best known for illustrating Michael Bond’s Paddington Bear books.

The setting is Edinburgh during the Festival where Mr Foley has gone to play the trombone in an orchestra. His wife is dead and he has a son and daughter to bring up, it’s a difficult life for all of them as he has to travel around for work so they don’t have a permanent home. Pat isn’t a problem as he’s old enough to look after himself, but Janet is younger and that means it’s difficult for them to get accommodation, nobody wants to end up having to take responsibility for her while her father is at work. But Chris is a young girl who helps her mother run their boarding house in a poorer part of the city, and she takes their booking.

Janet is intrigued by Effie the fishwife who visits the boarding house every week carrying a huge basket of fish to sell. When Janet follows Effie she gets completely lost in the many wee lanes and wynds at the back of the Royal Mile and ends up in a condemned building where the elderly inhabitant shows her a golden box, but Janet lives in a bit of a dream world and tells so many ‘stories’ that nobody believes her. They don’t believe that the House of the Pelican exists.

This was my first Elisabeth Kyle read but I definitely want to read more of her books as I really enjoyed this one which I’m sure captured the atmosphere of the early days of the Edinburgh Festival.