The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt

 The Christmas Card Crime cover

The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt was published in 2009 and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize that year.

The book begins in London 1895 in the South Kensington museum where Prosper Cain, an ex-army officer is Special Keeper of Precious Metals. His son Julian is home from school due to illness and he notices a young boy who is intently drawing one of the exhibits. Julian follows the boy when he disappears into the bowels of the museum and catches up with him. Philip has run away from his poverty stricken home in the Potteries and he’s hoping that one day he will be able to make wonderful pottery himself.

Olive Wellwood, a famous children’s author is also in the museum, visiting Prosper Cain and she takes Philip home to her large house near Rye and so begins a tale which spans 25 years of British social and political history with many of the influential people of the times having bit parts. William Morris, H.G. Wells, Lloyd George, Herbert Asquith, the Pankhursts, the Arts and Crafts Movement, The Fabians. It’s all there, as are the wars.

Through it all runs the story of Olive Wellwood’s extended family and friends. Olive writes very successful fairy tales, supporting her family and husband with her earnings, but when each of her children are born she writes them their own story which she adds to over the years. It’s a charming idea for small children but has a detrimental effect on some. On the surface the Edwardian lives are idyllic but all is not well, the adults have been living double lives and the children/young adults have been used and abused in all sorts of ways, nothing is as it seems.

I loved this book which I’ll probably give five stars on Goodreads even although there are a few times when Byatt goes off on a tangent for just a few pages which probably should have been edited out. Otherwise I loved the writing, which was a good surprise for me as I’m sure that I abandoned one of her earlier books because I didn’t like her writing style, but I can’t say that for this one. I also learned quite a lot of historical facts about an era that I thought I was already well acquainted with.

Byatt really threw herself into this one and says that she had a lot of help from specialists on World War 1, women’s suffrage, Austrian theatre, the history of women’s colleges, public schools and she even had a go at sticking her hands in wavering clay, for the experience.

This isn’t a comfort read, in fact it’s quite uncomfortable at times but I found it to be a great read and surely it would have won the Man Booker Prize if Wolf Hall hadn’t been shortlisted in the same year. At one point I thought that the character of Olive Wellwood must have been modelled on the children’s author E. Nesbit, but then she was mentioned in the book. She was one of those poor women who were in The Fabian Society which at that time seems to have been mainly formed by men who wanted ‘free love’ at the expense of the women they took up with. On a personal note I was so glad that we had visited Rye in Sussex in 2019 as the town and the famous Mermaid Inn feature in this book, it’s good to be able to imagine it, although nowadays if you’re really keen you can go onto Google Street to see any locations in books.

Aldborough, Yorkshire, England

We planned to visit the Roman parts of the small village of Aldborough on our way back home to Scotland after visiting Bletchley Park recently, and even although the rain was chucking it down we decided to stop off there anyway for a rest and to stretch our legs a wee bit. We did find the ‘Roman town’ but there was a locked gate across the entrance. Due to Covid the English Heritage site was shut. You can have a look at the Aldborough Roman site here. Fingers crossed we’ll actually be able to visit again in the future.

The visit wasn’t a dead loss though as the village itself is lovely even in the rain, and has some interesting old buildings. Apparently the Roman town originally covered the whole of the ‘modern’ town. You can read about it here. The famous Ninth Legion had a base here, until they disappeared!

Aldborough houses, Yorkshire

It was obviously a very important military settlement and I think if I lived there I would be spending a lot of time in the garden digging as a lot of Roman artefacts have been discovered in this area. We only spent about fifteen minutes looking around, due to the weather but I’m looking forward to going back there one day, when/if things ever get back to normal. Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish First Minister has asked us not to travel out of our own area in these pandemic times.

Aldborough house, Yorkshire

I can’t see any mention of the very prominent Maypole anywhere on the internet which is strange as I’m fairly sure there aren’t that many around. I ‘discovered’ this village when reading my copy of the AA Book of British Villages (1980) and it states that the maypole is used in the second week of May every year for maypole dancing. It sounds like the village has a good community spirit anyway. There are some lovely Georgian houses, they always make me think of Jane Austen.

Maypole, Aldborough, Yorkshire

Maypole, Aldborough, Yorkshire

There’s something so English about a village green and obviously it should have an oak tree.

Oak Tree, village green, Aldborough, Yorkshire

This village green boasts a set of stocks too, I imagine that in May and at summer fetes they will be used with local worthies being put in them while people pay and queue up to throw wet sponges at them!

Aldborough Stocks, Yorkshire

We squelched around the churchyard, St Andrews Church dates from 1330 and replaced the Norman church which had been destroyed by Scottish raiders (ahem) it’s not all that far from the Scottish Border really. It looks like the church has been extended over the years.

Aldborough Church, Yorkshire

I think the wall which surrounds it dates from Roman times but has obviously also been extended. This is definitely a place that we’ll have to visit again.

St Andrew's Church, Aldborough, Yorkshire

Autumn garden in Fife

Ceanothus, fuchsia

We’re well into autumn now but there’s still quite a bit of colour and blossom in my garden. The ceanothus has just decided to flower for the second time and the fuchsia Ricartonii has been very late, the frost will probably get them soon.

berry tree, my garden

The mystery berry tree  (possibly a cotoneaster) is very bright but I’m cutting it back to make it a bush rather than a tree as there are too many trees growing out of hand in my garden.

The dogwood (cornus) leaves are just about to drop, but they’re also contributing to the colour in my autumn garden.
heather, dogwood, my garden

autumn garden

Spring or autumn – the acers are my favourites.

autumn acer

acer, lemon scented conifer

autumn garden

There are still a few roses around, and the geranium leaves die off so cheerily.

rose, autumn garden

acers, garden

I bought some marigolds in early summer, different varieties and the one below has been great so I’m saving seeds from it to grow next summer. It’s in an old chimney pot.

marigold, garden

It was a damp day when I took the photo below, from the guest bedroom window.

garden

The smirry rain (very fine like low cloud almost) gives a hazy effect but I hope you can see some of the autumn colour in the trees.

autumn garden

It has been remarkably windless recently which is strange for this area and will no doubt account for the days and days of rain that we’ve had, but I suspect that the leaves won’t be hanging on for much longer now.

Bletchley Park – part 2

Here we are back at Bletchley Park, the World War 2 codebreaking centre. The photo below is of a sentry box which would have been manned or maybe womanned I suppose (or maybe not) by some one asking you for your papers before you could get past the gate.

Bletchley Park Sentry Box

Below is a corner of Alan Turing’s office, all of the offices are very dark, I don’t think they had any windows which would make sense when you’re keeping things secret but must have made working there even more claustraphobic.

Alen Turing's Office, Bletchley Park, codebreaking, WW2

As ever, click the photos if you want to see them enlarged. I find it so sad that Alan Turing was so badly treated by the powers that be – after the war. He certainly didn’t get any thanks for his efforts at winning the war.

Alan Turing's Office, Bletchley Park, codebreaking, WW2

Below is a fairly recently made statute of Alan Turing, it seems to have been constructed using pieces of slate piled on top of each other, it’s quite effective though.

Alan Turing Statue, Bletchey Park

The main codebreakers seem to have lived in estate cottages close to the huts and the mansion house, you can’t see inside them but they look very cute from the outside.

Bletchley Park Cottages

Bletchley Park Cottages,

Bletchley Park Cottages

I like the design of the leaded glass windows, presumably this was the bathroom.

Bletchley Park Cottages window

At least they didn’t have to travel far after a long shift of calculations and code wrangling.

Bletchley Park Cottages

Falkland Palace Garden, Fife, Scotland

Falkland Palace , Fife, Scotland

Although we’re members of the Scottish National Trust we haven’t been able to visit any of their properties this year as they’ve obviously all been closed due to Covid. Some of the bigger castles have opened up again, such as Edinburgh Castle and Stirling Castle, but last week we decided as it was a beautiful day we’d visit nearby Falkland Palace, just to walk in the garden, the palace wasn’t open. You can just walk in and there’s a box for donations.

Falkland Palace, Fife, Scotland

Falkland Palace was the hunting lodge of the Stuart kings and queens. Built in the 16th century by King James IV and his son James V and modelled in the French style it was also a favourite with Mary, Queen of Scots as it reminded her of the French chateaux of her childhood.

Falkland Palace , Fife, Scotland

Much of the palace is a romantic ruin, but in the 19th century the third Marquess of Bute had it partly rebuilt.

Falkland Palace, Fife, Scotland

We quite often just go for a wander around the gardens, there’s a pleasant orchard, although a lot of the trees have been fairly recently planted. In normal times you can have a nice wee sit down on a bench and admire the views, but I believe they’ve been removed due to Covid 19.

Falkland Palace Gardens, Fife, Scotland

Anyway, here are some of the photos I took while we wandered around.

Falkland Palace Gardens , Fife, Scotland

Falkland Palace Gardens, Fife, Scotland

Falkland Palace Gardens, Fife, Scotland

Falkland Palace Gardens, Fife, Scotland

Falkland Palace Gardens, Fife, Scotland

Falkland Palace Steps, Fife, Scotland

The gate below is obviously modern, it leads through to the orchard some of which you can just see in the background. The apple crop was not nearly as good as usual due to the weather.

Falkland Palace Gate, Fife, Scotland

Although Falkland has always been popular with tourists it has become even more so in recent years as the village and palace have been used as a location for Outlander. Click on the photos if you want to see them enlarged.

Culross, Fife, Scotland

Culross

A lot of the wee houses in Culross are owned by the Scottish National Trust and were delapidated and uninhabited until they took them over and renovated them.

Culross street, Fife, Scotland

Then they rented them out to people, I’m not sure if the houses that I’ve photographed are some of those ones but I think they are. I wish they had kept one of them as a tourist attraction, it’s lovely to visit palaces and stately homes but it can be even more interesting to see how the ordinary people lived back in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Culross, Fife, Scotland

Culross, Fife, Scotland

It’s strange but looking back I remembered having a hard time picking my way over the stones and boulders that made up the roads but I now see that some of them were tarmacked. In the photo below you can get an idea of how rough some of the roads are. It looks like a great tower house and must have a lovely view over the River Forth.

Culross house, Fife, Scotland

It’s a pity about the wheelie bins in the photo below – ugly but necessary for the people who live there. Sometimes tourists forget that these are people’s homes and have a good old look through a window, nose pressed to glass. I know someone who did that thinking the house was a museum and got the shock of their life when she saw the woman of the house staring back – it wisnae me!

Culross house, Fife, Scotland

The merkat cross below is about halfway up the very steep hill that leads to Culross Abbey, it seems a strange place to hold a market, it can’t have been an easy haul up there for any stall holders or shoppers. Maybe they held the market elsewhere despite the merkat cross being here.

Culross Mercat Cross, Fife, Scotland

On the way back downhill it’s easiest either to walk down the gutter at the side or along the middle of the road where the boulders are bigger and flatter.

Culross lane, Fife, Scotland

Below is a photo that I took close to the top of the hill that leads up to the abbey, looking over to the Firth of Forth. I inadvertently got a cow’s backside in view too!

River Forth View, Culross, Fife

The beach isn’t the bonniest but apparently it’s very rich in food for seabirds which is the main thing. Culross is definitely worth a visit if you are in or close to Fife.

Culross, Firth of Forth,Fife

St Andrews, Fife, Scotland

St Andrews, Fife, Shore and Castle

St Andrews in Fife is one of my favourite places to visit, but because of the lockdown we hadn’t been there for months, actually possibly we hadn’t been there at all this year. So on Saturday we took the opportunity to pay the town a visit. It was a bit daft doing it on a Saturday as it was bound to be busy but we were visiting family further along the coast so we killed two birds with one stone.

It looks a bit grey and cool but it was really quite a hot day, by Scottish standards. The queue for the ice cream shop was too long for us to stand in. The beach was packed, but we just sat on a bench (wearing our masks) and didn’t bother going on to the sands, we just people and dog watched, the dogs were more entertaining, chasing the waves.

St Andrews, sea, Fife

It was strange to see the gates around the cathedral closeed and padlocked, I had to tale photos through the railings.

St Andrews Cathedra, Fife, Scotland

St Andrews Cathedral, Fife, Scotland

St Andrews Cathedral, Fife, Scotland

The archway below is over the road that leads down to the beach, down a steep road. If you want to read a bit more about the town then have a look here, there are some great photos.
St Andrews Archway, Fife, Scotland

If you are looking for tips on what to do around St Andrews have a look at My Voyage Scotland here.

Armchair Travelling – Lindisfarne / Holy Island, near Berwick on Tweed – part 2

If you are visiting Lindisfarne Castle you should be warned that you have to be fairly fit to get up to it, there’s a very steep hill and the pathway has been made with rounded cobblestones which aren’t that easy to walk on, even if you’re wearing trainers or completely flat shoes. The priory is much easier to get around though, and that bit interested me most – I do love a good ruin.

Lindisfarne Priory, Holy Island, National Trust

These ruins date from the 12th century and they are looked after by English Heritage.
Strangely the graveyard seems still to be in use with some fairly modern headstones, presumably the villagers can be buried there.

Lindisfarne Priory, Holy Island, National Trust

Irish monks settled on Lindisfarne in AD 635 which is the time of the Northumbrian king Oswald. He asked a monk from the Scottish island of Iona to settle at Lindisfarne and founded the monastery. In the 670s Cuthbert went there as a monk and he eventually became the most important saint in northern England.

Lindisfarne Priory,Holy Island, National Trust

Lindisfarne became an important centre of Christian learning, but where there was Christianity there was silver and gold – those pilgrims have always meant good business for churches, so the Vikings were drawn to such places for the easy pickings. On the 8th of June 793 the Vikings made a raid on the island, the first of such in western Europe but certainly not the last.

Lindisfarne Priory, Holy Island, English Heritage

It was murder and mayhem and Saint Cuthbert hadn’t helped them so it was psycholgiclly devastating to the believers and most of the survivors ended up leaving Lindisfarne, taking Cuthbert’s body with them and settling inland. The modern sculpture below is of Saint Cuthbert, it’s not really to my taste.

Lindisfarne Priory,St Cuthbert

You might have heard of the Lindisfarne Gospels – an illuminated book of the four gospels which was created on Lindisfarne around the year AD 700. If you click the link and then click on the image you can see 21 photos of some of the pages.

Lindisfarne Priory, Holy Island, English Heritage

I really enjoyed seeing the ruins, it’s quite easy to imagine how it must have been in its glory – and the visitations of the Vikings too!

Armchair Travelling – Lindisfarne / Holy Island, near Berwick on Tweed

Lindisfarne Castle, Holy Island

We had wanted to visit Lindisfarne/Holy Island near Berwick-upon-Tweed for decades and often drove past it on our many journeys up and down the UK – but the tide never seemed to be right for us and we feared getting stranded on the island. But last year we planned it all out, looking up the tides so that we would have plenty of time to investigate the place. We parked the car, along with many others, it was a really bright and hot day and walked around the small village, it must be strange to live there I think. We walked along the road heading for Lindisfarne Castle which is very historic and ancient, dating from at least 1550 but in the Edwardian era it got a make-over by the famous architect/designer Sir Edwin Lutyens so it’s now a mish-mash of ancient and not so ancient. In 1901 the castle was bought by Edward Hudson who was a publishing magnate and owned the magazine Country Life. I believe it had a reputation in those days as a party destination for the very well-heeled. Now it is owned by the National Trust

Lindisfarne Castle, Holy Island, National Trust

In the photo above you can see people walking along the road towards the castle. This is still a place of pilgrimage for some Christians, and they tend to walk barefoot over the sand/mud across to the island to emulate the pilgrims of previous centuries.

This is the modern entrance to the castle.

Lindisfarne Castle, National Trust

For some reason there is a model ship hanging from the ceiling in one of the rooms, it makes a change from Airfix aeroplanes I suppose! It’s a lovely model anyway.

Lindisfarne Castle, (ship)

Every castle needs a kitchen, I’d quite happily settle down in this one, although I imagine the cooking range would be a bit of a nightmare to control.

Castle Fireplace, Lindisfarne, Holy Island

Speaking of settling, what do you think of this settle by the range? Just add a few cushions and I think it would be a lovely cosy place to sit and pass the time knitting, the very high back would certainly keep any draughts at bay.

Lindisfarne Castle Settle, Holy Island, National Trust

This dresser completes the kitchen. There’s plenty of storage space I suppose for dishes, pans and utensils in the end cupboards.

Lindisfarne Castle cupboard, Holy Island, National Trust

It all looks very peaceful now but you can read more about the violent history of the castle here. Viking raids and all.

My garden in Fife, Scotland

Last week we had a couple of lovely blue sky sunny and hot days – hot by our standards anyway. Then of course the thunder and monsoon-like rain followed, and it’s still with us, well maybe not quite monsoon proportions but very damp indeed. I knew we would pay for all that gorgeous sunshine we had back in May!

my garden, Fife

But while the sun shone I took a few photos of my garden. Actually it looks a bit different now as it has been tidied up or redded up as we sometimes say in Scotland. I had to wait for my brown garden waste bin to be emptied as it was stuffed to the gunnels.

my garden

I got quite excited when I got an email from the Scottish National Trust telling me that some of their gardens will be opening on Friday. After the long Covid-19 lockdown a historic garden visit sounded perfect to me, especially as we’ve only been allowed to travel no further than 5 miles, unless it’s for essential shopping such as for food. The garden at nearby Falkland Palace or even Branklyn in Perth beckoned to me in my mind, but having seen the weather forecast for Friday I doubt if a garden visit will be on the cards. I live in hope!

my garden, Fife