New York – a jigsaw puzzle

We bought a big box of jigsaw puzzles which contained four puzzles of cities – Venice, Moscow, London and New York. We started the last of them, the New York puzzle, earlier in the week.

New York Jigsaw (Unfinished)

We finished it today and had a bit of a panic when it seemed that the last piece was missing. Jack got the torch to have a close look at the large Persian style rug, still the piece wasn’t found. Cushions, throws and such were shaken, no luck. Eventually he tipped a sofa back and there it was, how did it get under there? Anyway, I generously said that he could fit it in, but he insisted we each put a finger on a corner of it to slide it into place.

Jigsaw, New York

I’m not sure if we’ll get any more puzzles to do, obviously they would have to be bought online at the moment.

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

The Master and Margarita

TracyK of Bitter Tea and Mystery and I decided to read this book, it was on our Classics Club lists and it was a good way of making sure that I got around to reading it anyway. You can read her thoughts on the book here.
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov was first published in 1966. My copy was translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky in 1997.

This is a strange read and I can imagine that a lot of people might have given up on it, but I persevered as usual and thankfully ended up liking it.

It begins in Moscow where two men are sitting on a bench in Patriarch’s Ponds. One is a poet who has written a novel about Jesus and the other is an editor, soon they are joined by a foreigner, they can’t make up their minds whether he’s French – or maybe Polish. The foreigner tells one of the men how he will die. It seems so preposterous that they don’t take him seriously, but in no time the horrible prediction is fulfilled. The stranger was of course the Devil. He has red hair, as do lots of the characters in this book, and he has a large talking cat as a companion. They pose as a stage act in a Moscow theatre, supposedly illusionists and hypnotists, causing mayhem and becoming the talk of the city. There’s even a witch on a broomstick.

From time to time the book flips back to Judea – the poet’s novel. Pontius Pilate has been forced to condemn Jesus (Yeshua Ha-Nozri of Yershalaim ) to death because he was supposedly overheard complaining about the Romans. Pilate knows that the whole thing is just a way of getting rid of Yeshua who is seen as being a problem to some. It plays on his conscience. The author has never been able to get his novel published. He is The Master of the title and his married lover is Margarita. In despair he burns his manuscript.

Meanwhile there are lots of glimpses into how life is lived or endured in Russia. Neighbours denounce each other, with the death of one character so many people have their eyes on his flat, how can they get it for themselves? Communal kitchens are a way of life and you can’t get away from your neighbours.

As ever with translated books, and particularly when communist regimes are concerned, I have the feeling that I’m only getting the book on one level. I’m sure that for people who lived through those times there would be so many hidden allusions, and probably a lot of missed humour as humour seems to be the way people cope with adversity. It seems that despite communism, and with religion being frowned upon by the authorities, it didn’t stop people from knowing the bible well it would seem. This book even has four horsemen in it (as in the apocalypse?) – even though one is a woman.

I liked this one, despite the fact that for some reason Bulgakov gave all the ‘bad guys’ red hair – and there are an awful lot of them, so it was obviously not coincidence.

Apparently Bulgakov himself burned one of his manuscripts for fear of the consequences if it was found in his possession, though I believe there were copies elsewhere.

Balbirnie Woodland Walk

It’s time for another wee walk in the Balbirnie Estate, Fife – socially distanced of course!

Balbirnie Path and burn

The burn (stream) in the photos is variously called Balbirnie Burn or the Back Burn. It’s a lovely thing but quite devoid of wildlife. The problem apparently is that there is too much sediment in it and not enough gravel for fish to lay eggs in. There was going to be a project to try to rectify that problem, but that may be on the back burner now due to all the costs of the lockdown to the local council.

Balbirnie Path and burn, Markinch, Fife

Like many old estates this place was well known for rhododendrons, there was a bit of a craze for them in Victorian times and Balbirnie has some unusual and very old specimens.

Balbirnie Path and rhoddies

Strangely the reddest rhoddies seem to bloom first, but I prefer the paler colours.

Balbirnie Path and rhoddies, Markinch, Fife

Balbirnie Path and rhoddies

The ferns below must be the most elegant variety growing in the UK. There are big pockets of these ones around the woodland in Balbirnie, I think they’re called shuttlecock ferns.

Ferns Balbirnie Park, ferns, Markinch, Fife

Ferns, Balbirnie, Fife

There was a tall cherry tree still in blossom. It’s a shame that it never gets warm enough here for the fruits to ripen properly.

Blossoming Trees, Balbirnie, Fife

Rhoddy flower, Balbirnie

Walking in a big loop we reached the ‘big hoose’ again and as the hotel is closed for the duration, like everywhere else we slipped through the gardens and I took a photo of the small Magnolia below, I believe the variety is stellata but the photo isn’t as good as I hoped it would be so it’s not that clear.

Magnolia (stellata)

I hope you enjoyed your walk in the woodlands. It wasn’t as empty of people as you might imagine. We had never seen it busier; usually we have almost the whole place to ourselves but people who never before exercised aroud this area are now making good use of the place. There was even an ex-leader of the Scottish Labour Party out and about.

Glitter of Mica by Jessie Kesson

Glitter of Mica cover

Glitter of Mica by the Scottish author Jessie Kesson was first published in 1963. Previously I’ve read Another Time Another Place and The White Bird Passes and I enjoyed those ones but I didn’t like this one nearly as much.

The setting is rural Aberdeenshire in the north-east of Scotland, the parish of Caldwell and the book begins in the 1930s. Hugh Riddell is a farm worker who is never kept on after his year of contracted work is up, which means that every year he has to find a new job in the area at a different farm. His wife is sick fed up with the constant moving, she can’t even plant a garden as she would be working for whoever would take over the tied house that goes with the farm work. They had a son, also Hugh and it’s his family that this book is mainly involved with.

The marriage of Hugh and his wife Isa isn’t any more successful than that of his parents, Hugh despises Isa and she seems afraid of him, they did manage to produce a daughter though, Helen does well at school and goes to university, but her mother is disappointed that she is only doing a diploma in social sciences and won’t come back with the MA that past ‘scholars’ have attained.

Helen gets work as a youth worker and unknown to her father starts a relationship with Charlie Anson, someone else that Hugh despises. As you can imagine it all ends in tears.

There are some flashes of humour in this book such as ….for she was a tight woman and had she been a ghost she would have grudged giving you a fright.

The characters in this book remind me, if I ever needed to be reminded of why I am ‘pining for the west’ as they are almost all miserable and mean spirited and are their own worst enemies. Love doesn’t seem to enter into anyone’s life, people get married because they have to marry someone and quickly go right off them it seems. There’s only one character who seems to have any human warmth – and she’s the talk of the place – being a wee bit too friendly with some of the local men. But the women have to admit that she always hangs out a ‘bonnie white washing.’ High praise indeed among the women.

This is supposedly Jessie Kesson’s best book but I just found it too depressing, I have no doubts that it is a very true portrait of the area and the times. Some readers wallow in misery, but it’s not for me

You can read what Jack thought of the book here.

Jigsaw puzzle – London

The lastest 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle that we’ve completed in these strange pandemic times is one of London which I really enjoyed doing.

London jigsaw puzzle

There’s a lot of reflection here but you can probably see that it’s the Thames, embankment and the Houses of Parliament and St Stephen’s Tower. Now we’re doing the New York puzzle, so far so good but we’re just completing the edges. I may have to resort to the internet for more puzzles as this one is the last one we have to complete. When I bought them I thought they would do nicely to pass the time on cold and dreary winter days, but obviously then I had no idea we would all be in lockdown and stuck at home. I’m so glad I bought them as there’s only so much reading and TV watching that you can do in any one day.

London jigsaw puzzle

Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times

Judith at Reading in the Wilderness hosts – Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times

This week I’m looking at some of my arty books which are situated in bookshelves in the sun room. Art books are often the sort of books that people dip into now and again but rarely read from cover to cover all at once – or is that just me?

Hand, Heart and Soulcover

Hand, Heart and Soul by Elizabeth Cumming is about the Arts and Crafts movement in Scotland. Unlike many arty books this one has a lot of information in it, but it also has plenty of photos of stained glass, embroideries, furniture, paintings, interiors and more. I’ve read bits of it and probably forgotten those bits so I really should get down to it again.


A Treasury of the Great Children's Book Illustrators cover

A Treasury of the Great Children’s Book Illustrators by Susan Meyer. It features Edward Lear, John Tenniel, Walter Crane, Randolph Caldecott, Kate Greenaway, Beatrix Potter, Ernest H. Shepard, Arthur Rackham, Edmund du Lac, Kay Nielsen, Howard Pyle, N.C. Wyeth and W.W. Denslow. It’s pure eye candy but is also an interesting read.

Edmund Dulac's Picture Book

The last book is Edmund Dulac’s Picture Book which was published on behalf of the Croix Rouge Francais under the patronage of H.M. Queen Alexandra. I think it was published in 1915 by The Daily Telegraph and obviously the money went to the French Red Cross. It’s a collection of songs, poems and stories all beautifully illustrated. They are semi loose, sort of tipped in so that if you wish you can frame them, luckily none have been removed from my copy. This is something of a collector’s book, I think I got it as a Christmas present from Jack some years ago, but I haven’t read it – yet!

Joseph Knight by James Robertson

Joseph Knight cover

Joseph Knight by James Robertson was published in 2003 and it won the Saltire Scottish Book of the Year Award 2003.

This book flips backwards and forwards from 1746 to 1802 and dates in between. The locations range from Drumossie Moor – the Battle of Culloden – Dundee, Edinburgh, Perthshire, Fife, London and Jamaica.

James Wedderburn is a young man, a Culloden survivor and at the beginning of the book he’s hiding from the English authorities, if they catch him he’s a dead man. His father, who also took part in the battle has already been captured. Eventually he and his brother make their way to Jamaica and in time become very well off landowners, making their money from the sugar cane fields that are worked by their slaves.

James had always planned to return to Scotland when he had made enough money and he does exactly that. He isn’t willing to part with his slave Joseph Knight whom he has trained up to be his personal house servant. Joseph will be seen as a prized possession and proof of his owner’s success in life. Joseph has become a Christian and is obviously an intelligent man, he wants to be free to make his own decisions in life.

The upshot of that is that he marries and goes away to live with his wife in Dundee, of course he’s a ‘kenspeckled’ figure and eventually he is arrested as a runaway. However, slavery had been outlawed in Scotland long before then so surely as soon as Joseph got to Scotland he should be a free man. A court case ensues.

The author couldn’t resist the idea of having Boswell and Johnson as minor characters, both apparently being against slavery. I suspect this was to pep up the storyline as inevitably boozing and bawdiness was the result, I’m not sure that was necessary but others might dispute that. There are scenes of brutality in Jamaica, slave owners who regarded themselves as being fair-minded were far very from that.

This is a really good read, it’s based on a true story, if you’re interested you can read more here.

The blurb on the back says: ‘A gift for witty re-imagining and a canny understanding of the novelistic and its conduits to the worlds we live in now mark Robertson as a marvellous novelist and Joseph Knight as a work of cunning and great assurance,’ Ali Smith, Guardian.

You can read Jack’s much more detailed review of this book here.

National Library of Russia Reading Rooms, St Petersburg

This time last year we were visiting St Petersburg in Russia, a place I had always wanted to see. Can you believe that our tour bus parked right outside the National Library of Russia Reading Room? It’s situated in a very handsome building.

National Library of Russia reading room

aNational Library of Russia reading room 2

Strangely there’s a fairly old looking sign with the opening hours on it, written in English. I wish we had had time to go in and investigate the place, but there were so many other places to visit in the city and we had to get our skates on.
aNational Library of Russia reading room 3

aNational Library of Russia reading room 5

aNational Library of Russia reading room 4

We were in a rush to see as much as possible inside about five hours.

Below is the Alexandrinsky Theatre, with some very pretty planting in front of it. St Petersburg is a lovely city and the locals were friendly, obviously not too annoyed by tourists.

Planting Ostrovskogo Square, St Petersburg

Apple Blossom in my garden

This year I took some photos of the apple tree in my garden as it blossomed. It begins a deep pink colour but opens to pale pink and then mainly white. This is the only plant that was in the garden when we bought this house. I’ve since planted another apple tree but it is a later variety.

apple blossom
We had some hail today, our weather has gone really crazy, but it shouldn’t affect the apples as they haven’t budded yet, so my fingers are crossed as we didn’t get any apples last year because of a late frost.
apple blossom, my garden

apple blossom, my garden

apple blossom, my garden

It was so hot last week when I took the last photo, and until then I hadn’t realised that apple blossom actually had a scent, the heat really brought it out and I’m surprised that no perfumiers have tried to capture it as it’s really lovely, or maybe they have tried, I’m not a great one for perfume in fact I think a lot of them smell really horrible and a whiff of some of them leave me with a three day migraine. I hold my breath when going through the perfume department of any department store – remember those places? They were becoming an endangered species in recent times and I think that Covid-19 might do most of them in completely, but I suppose that’s the least of our worries at the moment. The delicate looking blossom survives though.
apple blossom, my garden

75th Anniversary Victory Day

This time last year we were in Russia, a place that I never really believed that I would ever visit, sadly we got there two days after their huge victory celebrations commemorating the end of World War 2, but the banners were still decorating the streets.

1941-1945 banner

The Russians commemorate The Great Patriotic War – as they name World War 2 – on the 9th of May so I thought I would do this post of the memorials in St Petersburg, mainly because I really dislike the way the Russian war effort is overlooked by the rest of the allies. Without Russian people’s efforts and sacrifices, we would all be speaking German.

There is a memorial garden just off Nevsky Prospekt where I took this photo of the VICTORY hedge plus Red Star.

Victory

Below I’m just reposting what I blogged last year about what is the Leningrad Hero City Obelisk installed on the 40th anniversary of the war’s end.

WW2 Monument, St Petersburg, Russia

Over the last couple of days we’ve had the commemorations of the D-Day landings which were attended by the leaders of the allies and also by the German leader, Angela Merkel. But there was apparently no invite for President Putin, despite the fact that they were definitely our allies and if Hitler hadn’t taken on more than he could handle when he attacked Russia it’s almost certain that we would all be speaking German now. It was a close run thing.

I’m definitely not a fan of Putin, but given the fact that the Soviets lost more people in the war than anyone else, it seems mean and petty to leave them out of the memorial services. So I thought I’d show you a couple of photos of the War Memorial at the top of Nevsky Prospekt which is St Petersburg’s equivalent of Paris’s Champs Elysees or Glasgow’s Sauchiehall Street.

WW2 Monument, St Petersburg, Russia