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.

The V&A at Dundee

V&A Sign, Dundee

We’ve been to the V&A at Dundee a couple of times now since it opened recently, the second time we had hoped that it wouldn’t be quite so busy – but it was. I think it’ll be quite some time before the visitor numbers settle down a wee bit. Below is a close up of one of the walls so you can see how curvaceous it is. We’ve watched this building grow very slowly for years and it seemed at times that it would never be finished so it’s no surprise that people have been chewing at the bit to get into it.

Exterior Curve, V&A Dundee

In parts it overhangs the River Tay and I’m not sure if it’s meant to be inspired by a ship or Scottish cliffs, or a conglomeration of both. Dundee was famous for shipbuilding in the past. It looks like a perfect nesting place for seabirds of which there are plenty around here, but apparently they are being kept at bay by the use of sonar.
Overhanging River Tay, V&A Dundee

The weather in Dundee does get pretty wild at times so I hope that the planting has been chosen for hardiness. I think it’s supposed to be prairie planting. It’ll be interesting to see if it survives.
Exterior Planting , V&A Dundee

The interior is definitely different with this angled slatted shingle effect which is reminiscent of an old ship.
V&A Interior

V&A Interior

V&A Interior,  Dundee
The staircase is elegant I think.
V&A Interior ,staircase, Dundee

I’m not sure if the stone of the floors and stairs is natural or some kind of man made substitute, but it looks like it has all sorts of fossils embedded in it.

Interior Stairs, V&A Dundee

V&A Interior floor, Dundee

If you want to see more photos you should click over to Jack’s post here.

Melrose Abbey – part 2

I took a lot of photos when we visited Melrose Abbey in the Scottish Borders, so I thought I might as well do another post about it.
This finial is on the roof, you have to trek up a lot of stairs to get this photo.
Melrose Abbey Finial

The grave markers below are really part of the inner walls, I suppose it was only very wealthy people who could afford to be buried there and if any other members of the family want to be laid to rest there then the paving slabs beneath can be lifted to slot them in.
Melrose Abbey Grave Marker
A lot of the stonework has been eroded by the weather but you can still get an idea of the original decoration.
Melrose Abbey Doorway
The abbey must have been split up into different chapels in parts as there are several of these piscinae (wee alcoves) which were where the water was kept for the priests to wash their hands.
Abbey Piscinae, Melrose Abbey

The photo below is from the highest point of the roof.
Melrose Abbey Roof
It’s definitely not for people who suffer from vertigo!
Melrose Abbey roof

I find that I get dizzier if I’m on the ground looking up though. Hundreds of years ago some religious fanatics climbed this building to knock hell out of the carved images of saints which they objected to, it looks like some of them more or less survived, maybe those ones were just too difficult to reach.
Melrose Abbey Saints' Niches
In its heyday this abbey must have been a vast complex, far more of it is just ruins in outline, presumably the stones were carried away for house building at some point.
Melrose Abbey Grounds , Scottish Borders

Melrose Abbey Grounds , Scottish Borders

If you happen to be in the Melrose area it’s a good idea to fit in a visit to Sir Walter Scott’s home – Abbotsford, which is not far from here.

As you can see we were very lucky with the weather, it was the last warm day of what has been a great summmer or should I say autumn as these photos were taken towards the end of October.

The Easter Party by Vita Sackville-West

The Easter Party cover

The Easter Party by Vita Sackville-West was first published in 1953 but for me it somehow has more of a 1930s atmosphere. My copy is a first edition but sadly doesn’t have the dust cover. The setting is a large old house called Anstey, owned by Sir Walter Mortibois who inherited Anstey and is a wealthy lawyer. He’s a very flawed human being though and when he suggested marriage to a very much younger Rose who is the local vicar’s daughter he explained to her that it would be a marriage in name only as he really only wanted someone to be a perfect hostess. He has no interest in the physical side of marriage so there would never be any children, he believes that the human race should just peter out! or words to that effect.

It doesn’t take Rose long to decide that she’ll marry him as she had always hated being poor, but she falls in love with Walter and has to endure an existence with no human contact despite the fact that she really longs for it. Walter and Rose’s relationship is contrasted with that of her sister Lucy who has married for love and although her husband is an impecunious stockbroker (is there such a thing?) they’re a very happy family. Lucy is sorry that her sister has had no children, but she has no idea that Rose is still a virgin.

I really like Vita’s writing style but the story just doesn’t hang together as the love of Walter’s life is an Alsatian dog called Svend, throughout most of the book the reader gets the impression that Svend has always been there, but towards the end of the book it transpires that he’s only three years old. I didn’t like the ending as I wanted to know what happened next, but there was no sequel.

As it happens decades ago I knew a woman who had been put in a similar position. She was a PA to a wealthy businessman, he even had his own aeroplane, however he was a homosexual at a time when it wasn’t so socially acceptable. He explained to my friend that there could be no children but she would have everything else that she wanted in life, she turned him down. I don’t blame her as what a lonely arid life it would have been for her. It took her no time to turn his offer down but I know that that sort of thing would have appealed to some women.

Christmas books – vintage crime

Murder in the Snow cover

Can you believe that there are some houses in my neighbourhood that are already decorated for Christmas? Crazy! Nowadays it takes me a while to get into the Christmas spirit, some years I never manage it at all but I find that reading some Christmas themed books usually helps. This year I’ve only got two such books to read, I might have to resort to the library for some more.

Anyway for me murder mysteries and Christmas go together like fish and chips so I’m giving Gladys Mitchell another go. I’ve read quite a few of her books in the past but I’m not really enamoured of her detective – Mrs Bradley. The mystery to me is why she made her detective so unlikeable. I’ll be reading her Murder in the Snow which was first published in 1950 and has an attractive Christmasy cover.

The other Christmas themed book I have is called Silent Nights, a collection of Christmas mysteries which is edited by Martin Edwards. The contributors are:

Arthur Conan Doyle
Ralph Plummer
Raymund Allen
G.K. Chesterton
Edgar Wallace
H.C. Bailey
J.Jefferson Farjeon
Dorothy L. Sayers
Margery Allingham
Ethel Lina White
Marjorie Bowen
Joseph Shearing
Nicholas Blake
Edmund Crispin
Leo Bruce

I have read The Necklace of Pearls, the Dorothy Sayers short story, before and wasn’t all that impressed with it. I hope the others are better.

The Classics Club Spin #19 – a bit late

I’ve been away in Lancashire over the last four days, and I had scheduled some posts to go on here while I was away – but only one of them did go on – technology – huh! Anyway that’s why I didn’t post about this classics spin before it was actually announced, but I’m just going ahead with it anyway. The number has been picked and it’s 1 so I’ll be reading The Earth by Emile Zola. I’m quite looking forward to reading it.

Classics Club

Yes it’s spin time again at The Classics Club. Post a list of twenty classics from your list and read whichever book the spin comes up with.

1. The Earth by Emile Zola
2. Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi
3. The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope
4. The House in Norham Gardens by Penelope Lively
5. The Corn King and the Spring Queen by Naomi Mitchison
6. Miss Marjoribanks by Margaret Oliphant
7. Salem Chapel by Margaret Oliphant
8. Doctor Dolittle and the Green Parrot by Hugh Lofting
9. The White Guard by Mikhail Bulgakov
10. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
11. Rider of the White Horse by Rosemary Sutcliff
12. The Mark of the Horse Lord by Rosemary Sutcliff
13. If Not Now, When? by Primo Levi
14. The Tempest by Shakespeare
15. An Infamous Army by Georgette Heyer
16. Angel Pavement by J.B. Priestley
17. Pawn in Frankincense by Dorothy Dunnett
18. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown
19. The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson
20. The Fair Maid of Perth by Sir Walter Scott

I’m really not fussed which book I get to read. There’s plenty of time to get around to reading it as the 31st January 2019 is the big day to post my thoughts on the book.

Quite a lot of the books on my list are chunksters.

Almanac 2019 – National Geographic

National Geographic Almanac 2019 over

Have you ever looked at a copy of the National Graphic Magazine? Well Almanac 2019 is like those – with bells on. It contains 381 pages of all sorts of fascinating facts and is stuffed full of beautiful photographs.

The contents include: Exploration and Adventure, classic travel, iconic destinations, the solar system, life on earth, world history, continents and oceans, countries of the world, flags of the world, the future of the planet – and that’s just a few of them.

I suppose this book is aimed at adults but I know it’s the sort of book that I would have loved to dip into from about the age of twelve.

My thanks go to the publisher tlc for sending me a review copy.

Nightmare in Berlin by Hans Fallada

 Nightmare in Berlin cover

Nightmare in Berlin by Hans Fallada was published in German in 1947 and it was translated by Allan Blunden.

This is the second book by Hans Fallada that I’ve read, the first one was Alone in Berlin and although that one is more tense and ultimately very sad, I preferred it to this one which dragged a bit in the middle for me.

The book begins in April 1945 Berlin, for the Germans the war is over. Doctor Doll is the mayor of a small town in north-east Germany and it’s now occupied by the Russians. Doll had been quite a successful writer before the war and he had lived in Berlin but he and his wife had had enough of the bombing raids earlier in the war and had moved to the small town. In the end things didn’t go well for them there so they returned to Berlin.

It transpires that Doctor Doll and his wife are both addicts, she’s a morphine addict and he’s a sleeping tablet addict and in Berlin their entire life revolves around getting their next fix. Addiction is common, especially amongst the medical profession, apparently nerves had been shattered by the bombs and people had resorted to chemical crutches.

At the beginning of this book the inhabitants are all trying to distance themselves from the Nazis and feel guilt over the war that they had started, but towards the end the life they were all having to lead is making some of them long for the good old days of the Nazis when food was more plentiful.

The blurb on the back says:

An unforgettable portrayal of the physical and psychological devastation wrought in the homeland by Hitler’s war.

Hans Fallada was dying when this book was about to be published and from the potted biography at the beginning of the book it’s obvious that this is really based on his own experiences.

Voices on the Wind by Evelyn Anthony

Voices on the Wind cover

Voices on the Wind by Evelyn Anthony was first published in 1985. I read a lot of her books in the 1970s and loved them, she specialised in World War 2 espionage books.

In this one it’s forty years after the war and Katharine Alfurd is living in a small Sussex village, she’s fairly recently widowed and only has one daughter who she doesn’t get on with very well, so she leads quite a lonely life and has taken to visiting the local pub, drinking too much and telling anyone who will listen to her about her wartime exploits as an undercover British agent. As she had a French mother she could speak the language like a native.

The 1980s were a time when now and again high profile Nazis who had escaped justice popped up in the news, and that’s what happens in this book. Katharine had been involved with the Resistance in Occupied France and she had come into contact with Standartenfuhrer Christian Eilenburg. Now he is in France after having spent most of his life in Chile hiding from Nazi hunters. He’s about to stand trial and as Katharine had actually come into contact with him during the war she’s asked to travel to France to meet him.

Katharine’s wartime memories were never far away and now her thoughts go back to 1944 when along with others she was sent to France to help the Resistance and prepare for the Normandy invasions.

This was a great read, it does jump around a lot but I didn’t have a problem with that. I’ll be looking for more of her books.

Melrose Abbey, Scottish Border

On the same day that we visited Abbotsford we managed to squeeze in a visit to the nearby town of Melrose, mainly to have a look at Melrose Abbey. As you can see – it’s another ruin.

Melrose Abbey Information Board

It was King David I who in 1136 asked Cistercian monks to found an abbey in Melrose.

Melrose Abbey

Melrose Abbey

Melrose Abbey

Between Jack and myself we took loads of photos of the abbey and its surroundings.

Melrose Abbey

Melrose Abbey Bell

One of the information boards told us to look out for the carving of a pig playing the bagpipes, and we found it, we had to hike up 72 steep and narrow steps of a spiral staircase to reach the very top of the abbey, and from there you can look down on the pig. Whoever designed the place had a sense of humour anyway.

Melrose Abbey Decoration  pig

As this abbey is situated in the Scottish Borders it got more than its fair share of attention from English invaders, including Edward II’s army and later Richard II’s army. Then Henry VIII had a go at it; given all that – it’s surprising there’s anything left of it at all!

Crome Yellow by Aldous Huxley

Crome Yellow cover

Crome Yellow by Aldous Huxley was first published in 1921 but it has been reprinted regularly since then, the copy I read was from Fife Libraries’ reserve stock. This is the first book by Huxley that I’ve read and the reason I read it was because it was mentioned in another book that I read, one of the characters was reading the book for the third time. I don’t think I will be doing that but I did enjoy it. It’s a gentle parody of English country house novels.

It begins with a railway journey, always a good thing for me especially when I realise it will be a steam train. Denis is a young man on his way to spend some time at Crome a country house he has been invited to as part of a house party. He’s a more or less penniless poet and he’s planning to write a novel. Other guests are a well known portrait painter and a couple of bright young things in the shape of young women, one of whom Denis is enamoured of. The changing times due to World War 1 are in evidence with the young women determined to get rid of their repressions and live a more free life.

This is one of those books that you can’t help thinking that you must be missing many of the allusions in it. When it was read by contemporary readers they would have been able to recognise many of the characters I’m sure. One of them – Mr Callamay – is apparently meant to be modelled on the then prime minister Herbert Asquith who must have been in the habit of chasing after pretty young women.

There are some interesting comments during conversations about people who upset the world such as Luther and Napoleon.

“We can’t leave the world any longer to the direction of chance. We can’t allow dangerous maniacs like Luther, mad about dogma, like Napoleon, mad about himself, to go on casually appearing and turning everything upside-down. In the past it didn’t so much matter; but our modern machine is too delicate. A few more knocks like the Great War, another Luther or two, and the whole concern will go to pieces. In future, the men of reason must see that the madness of the world’s maniacs is canalized into proper channels, is made to do useful work, like a mountain torrent driving a dynamo.”

I wonder what on earth Aldous Huxley would have made of the maniacs that we’re having to put up with nowadays!