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.

Five Windows by D.E. Stevenson

 Five Windows cover

Five Windows by D.E. Stevenson was first published in 1953, but it has been reprinted since then.
I enjoyed this one although I can’t say that it’s my favourite by the author.

I really like the idea of a book with five sections, each one beginning with a description of the view from the window from the room where the narrator David is living. Through the actions of other characters that we meet David learns some important life lessons.

David is the only child of the local minister and his much younger wife, they live in Nethercleugh in the Scottish Borders, it’s a very quiet rural location and we follow his career from the age of nine until his early 20s.

The first window view is from his childhood bedroom window and “looked out over the garden to the bridge and the hills.”

The setting changes to Edinburgh when he starts secondary school and lives with his uncle.

The view from the second window “looked out on a chequer-board of gardens, each separated from its neighbour by a solid stone wall covered with ivy.” David’s two best schoolfriends are very different from each other and he allows himself to be led by one of them, culminating in David moving to London at the end of his schooldays.

The third window is London and it begins: The wall towered up some thirty feet from my window: It was of dingy brick and there was no break in it except for an iron ventilator.” The boarding house that he rented a room in was ghastly, filthy and the food provided was awful, but worse than that was the other boarders. But this was a steep learning curve for David, he learned a lot about people before he made his escape, for me this was the darkest section of the book, but maybe it’s through strife that we learn the most.

The description of the fourth window view begins, “My window looked out on to roofs of all shapes and sizes sloping in all directions: upon jutting gables and hundreds of chimney-pots.” From an attic flat David has real freedom for the first time, a place of his own but it’s not easy as he has to count every penny. This section is much happier as until now David’s life was far from one he had imagined for himself, and it begins to go in a more hopeful direction.

The fifth window was “dirty and we could not see through it, so I opened it from the bottom and we looked out …. Now that the trees had been felled we could see for miles: we could see meadows and fields: we could see hedges with the green tint of spring upon them.”

I liked this book but it has a few preachy Christian passages in it which don’t appeal to me. It has a lot of similarities with O. Douglas books with the main character home-making and descriptions of interior decoration – and the preachy bits. But I do love the idea of the descriptions from the windows as whenever you walk into a room of a house that you think you might end up living in the first thing most people do is walk over to the window to see what the view is like.

Yet again D.E. Stevenson managed a wee name check for her more illustrious relative R.L. Stevenson.

The Weem Witch by Leonard Low

 The Weem Witch cover

I was loaned a copy of The Weem Witch by Leonard Low by a friend after hearing the author talk at a local history group meeting on a different subject. This is an interesting although at times horrific read because in the early 1700s in the coastal villages of Fife a terrible kind of madness took over the inhabitants. The area had suffered badly from an economic downturn and was extremely poverty stricken. Life was miserable for most people there and it didn’t take much for people to point fingers and accuse people of being a witch. In 1704 A bucket which contained some water and coal and left outside a door was claimed to be a witch’s spell. The local bigwigs and particularly a local church minister started to cast around looking for someone to blame for their misfortunes and dragged lots of innocent women and some men into their investigations. Their victims were tortured until they would admit to anything just to make it stop.

The goings-on were objected to by the authorities in Edinburgh who obviously had a bit more common sense about them and that led to so-called witches being released, but the locals must have felt hard done by and when a young woman – Janet Cornfoot – who scraped her living by doing sewing for people was accused of being a witch by one of her drunken clients, they were determined to give her a ghastly end.

This was an interesting read, although as the author himself admitted he does ramble at times and he throws in quite a bit of earlier history to set the scene, which was fine by me, but the people of Pittenweem (which is a village very close to where the author lives) seem to have been a very nasty lot who whipped themselves up to hysterical madness and committed long drawn out murder on the beaches of the East Neuk of Fife. I’ll never feel quite the same about having a walk along those beaches!

Queensferry Harbour – a Jigsaw Puzzle

Winter is jigsaw puzzle season for us but we hadn’t done any for over a year, it seemed that we might have a jigsaw free winter because I just didn’t see any in the shops that I wanted to do, but when I saw this Queensferry Harbour one I had to buy it. At first – as often happens – I despaired of being able ever to complete it, but in the end we managed it within five or so days.

Queensferry Harbour, jigsaw puzzle

On Sunday the day dawned bright with a blue sky – and no rain. We had been looking forward to going to an annual book sale for ages, south of Edinburgh but it was cancelled at the last minute. Presumably the organisers thought that not many people would turn up due to the coronavirus being around. It meant we felt at a bit of a loose end so we decided to drive to South Queensferry – the scene of the puzzle – and had lunch there. I took just a few photos.

Forth Bridge, South Queensferry, River Forth, Scotland

Yes, by then it had started to cloud over a wee bit, but it was still a nice wee change.
Forth Bridge, railway bridge, River Forth, Scotland

On the way back home we dropped in at Tesco supermarket intending to do our normal weekly shop and were greeted by empty shelves. Such a sense of panic with many people and I couldn’t help thinking that they probably didn’t have enough room in their freezers to accommodate everything they were buying – there was no meat left, or even eggs. I suspect a lot of the food would end up being wasted. Crazy.

Lah di dah, lah di dah. Can you tell that I’ve been watching Annie Hall?!

The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel

I finished The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel this afternoon, so that took me eight days to read the 882 pages, I could have been faster, but I savoured every word. This last book in her Thomas Cromwell trilogy was well worth waiting for, but I can hardly believe that it has been eight years since Bring Up the Bodies was published. I don’t go in for much in the way of re-reading but I intend to read the whole trilogy again at some point in the future.

If you’re at all interested in the history of the Tudors then you obviously know how this story ends, but despite that 874 pages before Cromwell’s execution are still a riveting read and from about half-way through I slowed down my reading, not wanting the book to finish and at the end I felt quite bereft, knowing that I was going to miss being in Cromwell’s company.

Well, none of us is perfect and he had a lot of flaws, but given the circumstances he could have been an awful lot worse than he was and in the end it was his lack of brutality and cruelty to others at Henry’s court that brought his downfall.

Cromwell had always been able to see that given Henry’s nature the possibility of swiftly falling out of the king’s favour was almost inevitable, he could have sailed to Italy or some other European country with some of his wealth, but he left it too late as he loved being at the centre of power.

Throughout the book Cromwell thinks back to scenes in his life from his childhood on, replaying the abuses that he had to put up with from his blacksmith father Walter, and his life in Italy as a young man, the loss of his wife and daughters and before that the loss of his ‘Anselma’, for me this had the effect of a man drowning and seeing his past life playing out in front of him. He could clearly see where he had gone wrong, what he should have done differently in his incredible career but at the time he didn’t think he could do anything different. In reality though he knew that if Henry wanted rid of someone it was going to happen, there was no getting away from it.

I was really glad that Hilary Mantel wrote three and a half pages of author’s notes explaining what had happened to many of the other characters in the book, as it saved me from having to look them all up. She explained that she had been given encouragement from many historians, academics, curators and actors over the years which had included many distinguished names but had decided not to compile a list of acknowledgments. She thought that it would be like a vulgar exercise in name-dropping. I think that’s a bit of a shame as I imagine that if I had been one of those people I would have been expecting such an acknowledgement, and as a reader I would have been interested to know who had contributed help over the years.

Anyway, I suspect that this one will also win the Booker, it’s a great read.

Dumbarton Rock, west Dunbartonshire, Scotland

Last week when we were in Dumbarton, where I grew up and Jack was born, we had a wee walk through the town centre, which like most has seen far better days. Inevitably there were empty shops, but they have tried to jolly things up by covering the shop fronts with these gorgeous photographs of ‘The Rock’. In fact I took the photo on my blog header from the top of this very historic rock which is a volcanic plug. Because of its strategic position at the confluence of two rivers – the Clyde and the Leven – it has been used as a fort and stronghold, and was even used by the army in WW1 and WW2. There’s a tradition (accordng to the author Rosemary Sutcliff) that the Romans had a naval station here and they called it Theodosia, which I believe means given by the gods.

Dumbarton  Rock, west Dunbartonshire, Scotland

Whenever I see this place in the distance I always feel that I’m home. I don’t know who took these photos but they are very good I think, probably the first one was taken by a drone.

Dumbarton  Rock, west Dunbartonshire, Scotland

Out of the Past by Patricia Wentworth

Out of the Past cover

Out of the Past by Patricia Wentworth was first published in 1955 and it’s a Miss Silver mystery.

James Hardwick and his wife Carmona are living in an old house on the south coast which James has inherited from an uncle. It’s an ugly place and they hope to sell it soon, but as it’s a very hot summer they have several house guests staying with them, then another one unexpectedly turns up.

Alan Field had been engaged to Carmona in the past but he had left her standing waiting for him at the altar, and she hadn’t seen him again. He obviously expects to stay at the house, but James isn’t going to allow that to happen and Alan is dispatched to a boarding house nearby.

When murder ensues there’s a plethora of suspects and Miss Silver who is having a holiday with her niece and staying at the boarding house ends up sorting it all out of course.

I really liked this one and as ever I appreciated the updates on Maud Silver’s knitting projects. She knitted a pink coatee for a baby and matching bootees, her knitting obviously helps her to relax and think through all the clues to the mysteries. What a woman!

Luss Village and Church, by Loch Lomond, Dunbartonshire, West Scotland

Walking around the village of Luss by Loch Lomond last week, it was difficult to get photos of the houses but I managed to take the photo below of what I think is just about the cutest cottage in the village, peeking out from behind its hedge. It’s a shy one. Or maybe the owners fear that tourists might keek in the windows, it has been known elsewhere! Those elevated parts of the roofline above the windows are known in architectural circles as ‘cat slides’ for some reason and Jack and I live in hope of seeing an actual cat slide down one. These ones are very small and not like the usual cat slide dormers.

Cat Slide Cottage, Luss, Scotland

Walking a bit further along we reached the church which was shut, a bit of a shame but maybe it’s open at the height of the tourist season. There are a few images of the inside here.

Luss Church, Loch Lomond, Dunbartonshire, Scotland

This Church of Scotland building dates from Victorian times but there has been a place of Christian worship at the site for over 1500 years, it was formerly dedicated to Saint Kessog and has some really ancient graves in it including this Viking hogback grave below dating from around 1200.

Viking hogback stone, Luss church, Loch Lomond, Dunbartonshire
You can still see the decoration on it, I think it’s just designs rather than any letters or runes.
Viking hogback stone, grave, Luss, Loch Lomond

We had planned to walk over this wooden footbridge but as we got closer we realised it was all blocked off, apparently it’s dangerous at the moment. Anyway we walked past and onto a path which bypassed it and I managed to get a photo of the church steeple in reflection, if you look closely.
Loch Lomond, Bridge,Church

Loch Lomond Bridge, Luss

near Loch Lomond, Luss, Scotland, trees

Then on back around to the village again.

Luss, from Loch Lomond,

One of the cottages is being re-roofed, not before time as it looked fairly derelict otherwise.

Luss, Loch Lomond, cottages,

I imagine that although these houses must be really quite small inside they won’t be at all cheap to buy, at least there’s no danger of anyone building in front of you and spoiling your view.
From Loch Lomond, cottages, Dunbartonshire, Scotland

Loch Lomond panorama, Scotland

Loch Lomond, Dunbartonshire, West Scotland

Below is a stitch of a couple of photos that I took of Loch Lomond from the wooden pier at the wee village of Luss last Wednesday morning. You can see more images of Luss here. I didn’t take any photos of the houses as there were so many parked cars in the streets. The village was built by a Colquhoun to house the workers at his nearby slate quarry.

Loch Lomond, Ben Lomond panorama

The snow covered mountain that can just be seen to the left centre of the photo below is Ben Lomond, which is a ‘Munro’ meaning it’s over 3,000 feet high. It must be the most climbed mountain in Scotland, it’s an easy one to get up although as ever, if you aren’t wearing decent footwear and you aren’t properly clothed it can still be dangerous as the weather can change very quickly. I believe that some years ago a 12 year old German boy died of hypothermia on Ben Lomond, in July!

Loch Lomond, Luss, Dunbartonshire, Scotland

Loch Lomond is an idyllic place but in the summer months it can be very busy with tourists as it’s such a short distance from Glasgow, this area is often called Glasgow’s playground. When I was growing up I was lucky enough to live within a few miles of the loch so it was an easy walk in good weather anyway. But this part of Scotland is still incredibly well served with local transport links – buses and trains are very frequent. I took this completely for granted as a youngster and only realised how unusual it was when I moved away and discovered that some towns only have one bus a week – and to nowhere that you would want to go – what a shock that was!
Loch Lomond, Dunbartonshire, Scotland

There are a lot of small islands dotted around the loch. In the summer visitors are sometimes tempted to swim out to them, probably not realising that they are further away than they thought – not all of them make it there!

Loch Lomond, Dunbartonshire, Scotland

Loch Lomond, Dunbartonshire, Scotland

One of the islands – Inchconnachan – is home to a population of wallabies, you can read about them here. They were introduced there in the 1940s and are controversial now as they are a non-native species and apparently are a threat to the native capercaillies.

Loch Lomond panorama, Scotland

West of Scotland book purchases

I’ve been in my beloved west of Scotland earlier in the week so that Jack could go to a football match. It’s too far to do comfortably in one day so we stayed overnight and that gave us plenty of time to visit the shops and eateries that we wanted to visit. Amazingly the weather dried up and we had bright sunshine and blue skies – so much for the weather in the west being wetter than the east!

Without even trying I ended up buying eight books, some from charity shops and the four books from Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons series were from a sort of junky ‘antique’ shop. I was so pleased to get these ones that date from 1948 and still have their pristine dustjackets. They were all given to a boy called Phil in 1948 from his mother, nannie and John and Mary.

Missee Lee by Arthur Ransome
The Big Six by Arthur Ransome
Winter Holiday by Arthur Ransome
Great Northern? by Arthur Ransome

Books by Arthur Ransome

Arthur Ransome Books

The Westering Sun by George Blake – because of the lovely cover and it being Scottish.
The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar – a mystery to me but it was 50p so I thought I might as well buy it.

Books

And two more Scottish books.
The Flight of the Heron by D.K. Broster
The English Air by D.E. Stevenson

Books Again

It’s World Book Day today which is probably why the date was chosen for the publication of Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light. I dashed to W.H. Smith’s this morning to get my copy of it but annoyingly had to go out tonight so have only managed to get to page 43 so far. Of course it’s not going to be easy to read in bed as it’s so weighty. I suspect that I’ll be reading most of tomorrow!

Oh – and Jack’s team (Dumbarton) won their football match. Sometimes being away from home for one night only is just perfect as you can have one whole day of doing exactly what you want, and you’re only away from your own bed for one night. We visited Helensburgh and the Loch Lomond area and I managed to get some scenic photos which I’ll show you soonish.

Greenery Street by Denis Mackail

Greenery Street cover

Greenery Street by Denis Mackail was first published in 1925 but I read a Persephone reprint. I’ve been meaning to get around to reading this one for years and years as everyone seems to love it – and so did I. I only have one other book by him, it’s called Upside-down and I haven’t read that one yet. He was Angela Thirkell’s brother, worked as a set designer for a J.M. Barrie production and the family had lots of links to upper class English/Scottish society. The artist Edward Burne-Jones was his grandfather, and he was also related to Rudyard Kipling and Stanley Baldwin.

Greenery Street is very much an autobiographical book which tells of the first year of marriage of a young couple – Felicity and Ian Foster. Felicity’s parents had banned her from seeing Ian before they had even met him, she was their youngest daughter and Ian didn’t earn much money at his job in an insurance firm in the city. This of course only makes the young couple even more determined to see each other and Felicity’s much older sister Daphne is deployed to help the situation.

With permission to get married they set out to find a home and settle in Greenery Street, number 23 – a corner house. They love it but are very short of money and end up in a huge amount of debt to the local builder. Felicity is just useless at housekeeping and her two servants run rings around her. Ian and Felicity are both rather frightened of approaching the servants to complain of anything, even the disappearance of Ian’s five bottles of whisky!

Felicity ends up being overdrawn at the bank and Ian says:

‘Do you realise that you’ve got through the whole of your quarter’s allowance in six weeks?’

And still Felicity didn’t answer. If Ian and the man at the bank both held this extraordinary belief it seemed useless for her to argue. Horrible loathsome money, why must it come and spoil everything like this? She supposed she’d known it all along, really, only still it seemed impossible. Extravagant? It was monstrous to say she was extravagant, when she’s bought nothing for herself – absolutely nothing – since that hideous cotton frock which she’d never been able to wear.

It was all those foul tradesman, and their foul weekly books!

Of course Felicity had been gasping to buy that dress when she saw it in the shop window.

This is a lovely read, it’s funny and will remind a lot of people of what it was like to be setting up their first home, although most of us probably didn’t have such an upper class way of life.

But from what I know of such people it is really true to life. It seems that the richer people are – the less inclined they are to pay the bills of the tradesman that they use – leeching off people who have far less money. Seriously I’ve known a few people who have gone out of business because of this attitude, although to be fair Ian and Felicity’s debt is on their conscience.

However, back to the book F’licity as she is known in the family is a dippy charmer and Ian is besotted with her. The book is dedicated to Diana, the author’s wife and sadly she died in 1949. Up until then Mackail had published a book every year but he gave up writing after her death. He died in 1971.

Greenery Street was actually 23 Walpole Street, London which despite apparently being too small to accommodate a growing family has now been split up into flats, one of which sold recently for £1.49 million. The photo below is of Walpole Street although number 23 was of course a corner house so presumably was an end terrace towards the left of this photo. If you’ve read the book you’ll recognise the little balcony that Felicity sat on. Not at all bad as a starter home I’m sure you’ll agree. Coincidentally P.G. Wodehouse had also lived in this house at an earlier date.

Walpole Street