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.

Girl With Green Eyes by Edna O’Brien

Girl with Green Eyes

Girl With Green Eyes by Edna O’Brien is the second book in her trilogy featuring Caithleen Brady and her old schoolfriend and sometime bully Baba. It was published in 1962 and is sometimes titled The Lonely Girl. At the end of the last book – The Country Girls they were expelled from their convent school and amazingly they’ve been allowed to leave their homes and move to Dublin where Baba is to attend college while Caithleen is working in a grocery.

The girls are determined to make the most of the freedom from their families and scrimp and scrape to get the money to go to dances. It isn’t long before Caithleen is again involved with a much older man – as happened in the first book. He isn’t a Catholic and is already married with a child, but his wife has gone to America to get a divorce. When Caithleen’s father hears of her behaviour with a married man he goes to Dublin, determined to rescue his daughter from mortal sin and the fires of hell. It doesn’t seem to matter to anyone that Caithleen is over 21 and entitled to do what she wants with her life. It’s a very paternalistic society with the Roman Catholic priests and bishops at the top of the tree.

This is another enjoyable read with quite a lot of humour in it but it also rings so true about how women in Ireland were treated by men, and the church still thinking that it’s their right to treat them like mentally subnormal children if they didn’t obey priests and bishops. At one point I feared that Caithleen was going to end up incarcerated in a convent – as that did happen to some poor women even in the 1960s when their family thought they might ‘give the family a bad name’. Ironic really since so many of the men had a serious problem with drink and abused their wives. I well remember the singer Sinead O’Connor saying in an interview that her Granny had warned her never to marry an Irishman!

These books caused such a furore in Ireland when they were first published, they’re so autobiographical but the locals didn’t appreciate her honesty. You might be interested in watching the interview with Edna O’Brien below.

The Path of the Hero King by Nigel Tranter

 Bruce Trilogy cover

The Path of the Hero King by Nigel Tranter is the second book in his Robert the Bruce trilogy. The first one The Steps to the Empty Throne ended with the disastrous battle of Methven in Perthshire, when Bruce and his army were attacked during the night as they slept. That made Bruce realise that he would have to ditch his chivalric behaviour and adopt dirty tactics as the English King Edward I did. Previously The Bruce and King Edward I had been fairly friendly and the two countries had been on good terms.

In this book Scotland’s main castles are inhabited by the English as are many smaller castles and strongholds. King Robert is having a hard time with people who don’t recognise him as king and as usual the many clans in Scotland who have been at each other’s throats for generations are still causing problems. When he learns that his wife, daughter and sister have been taken prisoner by King Edward, and that they and his brothers had been handed to the English by a fellow Scot – the Earl of Ross – the gloves are off so to speak, especially when he’s told that the women have been hung in cages which dangle from various city and castle walls.

The Bruce begins the task of slowly grabbing back the smaller castles from the English invaders, using the guerilla tactics he learned from William Wallace. Slashing and burning the lowland parts of Scotland which the invading English army had to pass through, making sure that there was nothing left for the army to eat or even any shelter for them. That must have been heartbreaking for Bruce as the Border country had been his. There’s a lot of fighting in this book, interspersed with some bedroom action which I suppose is Tranter’s attempt to sex it up and bring in some variety.

This was a good read which ends on a high with the Battle of Bannockburn where Bruce used his knowledge of the surrounding land close to Stirling to win against a massive English army led by Edward II. I hadn’t realised quite how huge the English army had been, when the first of them marched into the Stirling area the end of the army was still marching through Edinburgh over twenty miles away! It must have been a terrifying sight.

Unfortunately I’ll have to wait a while before reading the last of this trilogy as I had to take the omnibus edition back to the library instead of updating it as someone else had requested it. I have plenty of other books to choose from though and will take a rest from historical fiction for a wee while.

Dunbar Battlefield (1650)

DunbarRecently a friend and I did one of those FutureLearn free online courses on the Battle of Dunbar, one of the bloodiest of what used to be called the English Civil Wars and is now called Wars of the Three Kingdoms, featuring that dastardly killjoy Oliver Cromwell. It was Maureen’s idea to do the course, she has links with the Durham area of the north of England and as she’s keen on archaeology and local history, as am I. She was very interested when the news of human remains being found at Durham Cathedral broke, and it turned out that the skeletons belonged to Scottish prisoners who had been incarcerated within the cathedral after the Scots lost the Battle of Dunbar in 1650, so we decided that it would be a good idea to take a look at the actual battlefield.

Dunbar Battlefield

We chose a beautiful day to go there, Jack did the driving and as we got close to Dunbar which is in East Lothian, south of Edinburgh I was scanning the roadside, looking out for a sign pointing the direction to the battlefield. We had a book, and had looked on the internet but it was surprisingly difficult to find, but after some to-ing and fro-ing we got there – we think.

Dunbar Battlefield
I say we think as sadly there is no proper information board there. Other battlegrounds that I’ve visited pointed out where the various rivalling factions were gathered at the beginning of the battle. It’s really just modern memorial stones that you can see and we were left to guess.

Battle of Dunbar, Carlyle Stone 1

Over the centuries the area hasn’t changed too much, although there’s now a cement making factory on part of the land, a blot on the landscape. But we had a lovely walk as far as we could go before reaching a gate that we weren’t allowed to go past. The animals aren’t at all bothered by the industrial blot, we saw sheep, a deer and hordes of geese. It was a good day out.

Going back to that online course, I was really surprised that the few prisoners who survived the starvation and disease of their captivity in Durham were sent out to America as indentured servants, which in some ways was even worse than being a slave. A few managed to live into old age though and married and had families. I bet they were always thinking of their homeland though.

Bloodline – Wars of the Roses by Conn Iggulden

Bloodline cover

Bloodline – Wars of the Roses by Conn Iggulden is the third book in this series, it begins in Winter 1461 and two men have been given the scary and disgusting task of impaling the heads of Richard Neville – Earl of Salisbury, Richard – Duke of York, and his young son Edmund on spikes mounted above the Micklegate which is one of the gateways into the walled city of York. They had been ordered to do it by Queen Margaret after her troops won the Battle of Wakefield. Margaret is calling the shots as her husband King Henry VI is yet again too ill to carry out his duties as king. She’s determined to put an end to the ambitions of the rival families for the throne, but as was predicted by one of her victims – she just succeeds in making the surviving family members determined to make Margaret, Henry and their supporters pay for their actions.

If you don’t like reading about battles then this one won’t be for you as the whole book lurches from one battle to another although the descriptions aren’t usually too gory, and for me I found the intricacies of the armour, weaponry and battle tactics interesting.

This series has made the Wars of the Roses era so much clearer to me and I haven’t had to refer to the family trees at the front of the book too often. There are so many Edwards, Henrys and Richards though and of course their titles to contend with too. But I’ve already requested Ravenspur which is the fourth book in this series from the library so it won’t be too long before I’ll be reading that one.

Stockholm Archipelago, Sweden

Stockholm archipelago, Sweden,

Sailing out of Stockholm and past the Stockholm archipelago was one of the highlights of that Baltic cruise that we went on way back in May. I wonder how many of the population own a boat. If I lived near there I’d definitely have one, what freedom it must be to go sailing along there between the many wee islands, all looking like something out of a story book.

Stockholm Archipelago

By all accounts most families in Sweden have their own teeny summerhouse on an island which they can sail to – to get away from it all. Bliss.

Stockholm Archipelago

Some houses are really large, but I suspect they’re still only used during the summer months as it must be freezing out there – even more so than being on the east coast of Scotland!
Stockholm Archipelago

This serene sail was breathtakingly beautiful and seemed to go on forever with the scenery constantly changing.
Stockholm Archipelago

Later, as the sun went down, we were in our cabin and I was so thankful that we had a window in it and a wide ledge for me to lean on as I couldn’t tear myself away from the view.

Stockholm Archipelago,Sweden

Six in Six 2019 edition

six

I’m a bit late with this but I’ve decided to join in with Jo at The Book Jotters Six in Six, you can read about it here.

You look over the first six months of the year and choose six books in six different categories. So here goes!

Six Historical Fiction books

The Fire Court by Andrew Taylor
Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian
Dunstan by Conn Iggulden
The Steps to the Empty Throne by Nigel Tranter
Stormbird by Conn Iggulden
A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel

Six books for children (of all ages)

Mary Poppins Comes Back by P.L. Travers
The Peppermint Pig by Nina Bawden
Bonnie Dundee by Rosemary Sutcliff
The Mark of the Horse Lord by Rosemary Sutcliff
The Exploits of Moominpappa by Tove Jansson
Emily Climbs by L.M. Montgomery


Six non-fiction books

The Love-charm of Bombs by Lara Feigel
To the River by Olivia Laing
Jane Austen’s England by Maggie Lane
Independence by Alasdair Gray
Off in a Boat by Neil Gunn
A Capital View by Alyssa Popiel

Six books by Scottish authors

The Chronicles of Carlingford by Mrs Oliphant
The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Spark
Naming the Bones by Louise Welsh
Homespun by Annie S. Swan
Gone are the Leaves by Anne Donovan
A Time of Love and Tartan by Alexander McCall Smith

Six crime fiction books

Excellent Intentions by Richard Hull
Murder with Malice by Nicholas Blake
Naming the Bones by Louise Welsh
Resorting to Murder edited by Martin Edwards
The Fire Court by Andrew Taylor
The Colour of Murder by Julian Symons


Six classics

Lady Anna by Anthony Trollope
Riceyman Steps by Arnold Bennett
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Transformation by Mary Shelley
The Last September by Elizabeth Bowen

This has been a good exercise for me. I knew that I had been reading more historical fiction than usual over the last six months, but hadn’t really thought that my crime fiction reading had tailed off quite so much. I intend to put that right over what is left of 2019.

Are any of these books favourites of yours?

Strathmiglo, Fife , Scotland

I’m not complaining, but on a sweltering hot day when we were on our way north to Perthshire we stopped of at Strathmiglo, instead of just driving past it. We had to get out of that hot car! Below is a photo of the tolbooth which was built in 1734.

Strathmiglo Tolbooth, Fife, Scotland

The kirk/church below would have been a perfect example of Presbyterian austerity if someone hadn’t tacked that completely different coloured stone porch onto it back in 1925. The Monkey Puzzle tree – or Araucaria if you’re a plantsperson or Guardian crossword person – is a beauty though, don’t you think?
Monkey puzzle and Strathmiglo  Kirk

I admit that the photo below isn’t the most scenic, but I do love it when you can stand in a street and see the hills not far away, in this case – the East Lomond.
View of Street, East Lomond

Jack and I are really well matched as we both enjoy mooching around old graveyards and burial grounds (what’s the difference I wonder). He’s normally looking for Commonwealth War Graves, usually of those poor souls who got home from their battleground only to die of their wounds later. I’m seeking out much older stones as you can see from the one below. The date on it is 1713 and at the time skulls were seen as a suitable decoration, a reminder of mortality to anyone looking at it. Sadly half of this stone has sunk down into the grave (I hope it missed the body!) so it isn’t possible to read who’s actually buried here.

old gravestone, Strathmiglo, Fife, Scotland

The one below has sunk even more, but I was amazed by how well it has survived the weather and years, I’m sure this one dates from the 1600s, I believe there was a date on the back of it. I’m impressed by the designs on it. Whoever’s grave it is must have been a gardener or something similar. There are two crossed spades in the middle of the design and the flowers on either side seem to have his initials incorporated into the design – J C being at the end of the stems, with the C looking like a scythe. The flowers have a very modern look somehow – there’s nothing new under the sun!

old gravestone , Strathmiglo, Fife, Scotland

Strathmiglo is definitely worth a look around if you’re passing by that way. There are some rather grand looking houses in the high street too, but it’s a very sleepy wee place nowadays.

I meant to mention before that the road which goes around the side of the church leads to a road called Cash Feus – named because the land belonged to the ancestral family of the Country and Western singer Johnny Cash. Obviously his branch of the family must have been the poor cousins as they took the decison to leave for the New World at some point. However he did come back to visit when he had researched his family tree, but it was the nearby village of Falkland that he went to most as he played some concerts there. I think one of his daughters still visits. Well, there are lots of links between Scots traditional music and country music.

The Country Girls by Edna O’Brien

The Country Girls cover

The Country Girls by Edna O’Brien was first published in 1960 and it’s a slim read at just 186 pages. It was the author’s first book and there are two other books by her featuring Caithleen, a young girl still at school and her sometime friend but often her bully Baba. Caithleen is smart and gets a scholarship to the supposedly prestigious convent school but Baba’s parents have to pay for her to go there.

Life for females in Ireland has never been easy what with most of the men apparently having a drink problem and being abusive in various ways, the women being downtrodden by their families and the Catholic Church. Until recently it was still like that but is seems to be changing – too slowly.

I loved this one with the two young girls refusing to be ruled by their families and the church, and getting up to all sorts of nonsense. The blurb on the back says: ‘Excellent and highly unusual blend of bawdiness and innocence’Evening Standard.

I don’t often buy books from the internet but I bought the second one in this series Girl With Green Eyes (also titled The Lonely Girls) – so that I could continue reading the adventures of Caithleen and Baba.

Curtain Up by Noel Streatfeild

Curtain Up cover

Curtain Up by Noel Streatfeild was first published way back in 1944. The island of Guernsey had been home for the three Forbes children Sorrel, Mark and Holly. Their father had retired from the Navy when their mother had died, but when war was declared their father had immediately re-joined the Navy and the children moved into their eccentric grandfather’s home. He is a clergyman who is far more interested in writing a book about the animals that appear in the bible than he is about the existence of his grandchildren.

When a telegram arrives saying that their father was ‘missing’ they live in hope that he has been taken prisoner and hasn’t drowned. But then grandfather dies and the children are sent to live in London with their mother’s family who are strangers to them. They’re devastated to be leaving their schools, the one stable thing in their lives.

Things get even worse when they discover that their mother had been part of a large family of well-known actors and actresses, and it’s assumed that the children will go to an acting/dancing school. The children had no idea that their mother had been from an entertainments background and they’re not exactly thrilled by the idea.

This was quite an entertaining read which follows the main rule of children’s books – get rid of those annoying parents as quickly as possible. I can imagine that many of the original 1944 child readers would have been enthralled by the storyline which has the children eventually auditioning for BBC radio.

As you would expect – all’s well that ends well.

Annan, Dumfries and Galloway, South-west Scotland

Last Saturday we drove down to Annan in Dumfries and Galloway, the south-west of Scotland. It was a glorious day, a bit too hot really for me it was about 70F I suppose.

Annan Bridge, Scotland
Jack was going to a football match there so I decided to take a stroll along the riverside walk along the Annan which flows through the town. It has a lovely ancient red sandstone bridge.

River Annan, Dumfries and Galloway, ScotlandBridge

Just a stone’s throw from the bridge is the remains of Robert Bruce’s motte and bailey, it seems just to be a few lumps and bumps in the ground from a distance anyway, I couldn’t get any closer. I was interested because I had just finished reading Nigel Tranter’s book Footsteps to an Empty Throne and this is where the first battle of the Wars of Scottish Independence was fought.
Bruce's Motte and Bailey, Annan
I had the river all to myself with just a few swans and a heron for company, sadly the heron flew off before I could get a photo.

River Annan (south)

They are obviously proud of the Robert the Bruce connections in Annan and had this statue put up on the Town Hall, but Bruce also had a manor/castle at Cardross near Dumbarton where I grew up, although nobody knows exactly where it was. In fact that’s where he died.
Statue of Bruce at Town Hall

Below is the town hall from another angle, if you lok closely you’ll see it’s desperately in need of being weeded of budleias and various other plants.
Annan Town Hall, Dumfries and Galloway

I enjoyed my walk around Annan and Jack enjoyed the football because Dumbarton won – unusually!