Perth Cemetery near Ypres in Belgium

We stayed at the hotel in Ypres for a couple of nights and during the day we mainly travelled around visiting World War 1 cemeteries. This one is Perth Cemetery near Ypres (Ieper) so called because most of the soldiers around this area came from Perth in Scotland.

Gates and Cross
They’re well looked after by the War Graves Commission and most of the time the smaller ones are very peaceful places, they’re mainly surrounded by farmland.
graves 1
In this one we disturbed a beautiful hare who was sunning himself amongst the flowers, far too fast to photograph of course, but I had to admire the choice of place to relax as the plants were particularly lovely here.
Perth cemetery from road

As you can see these cemeteries are very much part of the scenery with roads and people’s houses right next to them.

Perth Cemetery near Ypres

My Garden in May

For most of May I was wondering what had happened to the weather as it seemed very reluctant to warm up and the swifts/swallows were nowhere to be seen. They were obviously hanging back and not flying to the UK until it heated up a bit. They arrived at last but I’m sure that they were up to two months later than in previous years. We happened to be in Holland when they arrived there and by the time we got back home they were here too, although not in great numbers.
physocarpus and forget-me-nots
When we got back – the garden had exploded into growth! and this week the first rose appeared. It’s a climber called Golden Showers – can you believe? and I’m growing it in a large pot. I had it growing up the front of the old house that we moved from three years ago and when I saw one for sale at the Scottish Garden Show in Edinburgh last summer I decided to buy it again as it has a lovely scent too, something that seems to be difficult to come by nowadays.
yellow rose 1

This dwarf acer dissectum atropurpurea is a great colour and I like it even better combined with this Euphorbia Fireglow. I never worry about colours clashing in the garden as in general the various shades of green always save the day and tone it all down.
acer and euphorbia fireglow

Yet more red in the shape of planta genista or in other words broom, as they used to tie bits of it to a stick and use it for sweeping purposes back in the year dot. It’s the plant that was the emblem of the Plantagenets.
red broom

Mexico Set by Len Deighton

Mexico Set cover

Mexico Set by Len Deighton is the second of his books to feature Bernard Samson, the first one being Berlin Game which I enjoyed recently. I must say though that I found this one to be even better and I can hardly believe that it has taken me so long to get around to reading Len Deighton, especially given the fact we have had all his books since they were originally published.

It’s difficult to say too much without giving away what happened in the previous book but here goes …

Bernard Samson has been working in British Intelligence for years, as his father before him did, but he has had a shock to his system recently and he’s now a suspect figure within the world of espionage.

There’s a lot of coming and going between Mexico, Berlin and London, it’s the Cold War era and the powers that be in London want to get a particular KGB operative to defect to Britain – will he? – won’t he?

There’s also a lot of office politics going on, but it seems that the top jobs only ever go to Oxbridge candidates which is quite scary when you consider that according to another book that I read recently – Oxford and Cambridge accepted students with virtually nothing in the way of exam passes, the important thing was that your face/background fitted – up until as recently as the 1960s.

I think that the author made a good job of the atmosphere in all of the countries but particularly the situation for people living in East Berlin and unable to see their families in West Berlin. It’s a fact that in those days whenever you (I) met any people who had been originally from ‘eastern bloc’ countries, they always had a flamboyantly embroidered imagination of the past – they were always from a family that had masses of land and property – and even aristocratic titles which was/is laughable but at the same time terribly sad.

Another holiday – Orkney

Yes I know it’s only three weeks since we got back from our holiday in Belgium and Holland, and I still have a lot of blogposts to write about that trip, but we’re off to Orkney tomorrow, a place neither of us have been to before.

We have to drive north up to John O’Groats to get a ferry over to Orkney, I’ve been told that it’s usually a fairly rough passage – I live in hope!

We decided to go to Orkney when a friend recommended it, he had had a great time and was going back for more. Apparently a week isn’t long enough to see everything of interest, there are loads of neolithic sites to visit, standing stones, burial chambers and remains of settlements.

I have no idea what the internet connection is going to be like, but I’m going to try to schedule some blogposts before we leave anyway. The weather forecast doesn’t look too wonderful for the beginning of the week, fingers crossed it isn’t too bad!

20 Books of Summer 2017

I’ve decided to take part in Cathy’s 20 Books of Summer 2017. It seems to be fairly flexible so although I’ll almost certainly be reading at least 20 books between June and the end of August my plans might go a bit awry as if I get completely caught up in Len Deighton’s Bernard Samson books I’ll be reading the ones that follow on from London Match.

Otherwise there are just seven in my list which are by Scottish authors although I’m way behind with the Reading Scotland 2017 challenge. I’m not counting Angela Thirkell as being Scottish although she was of Scottish descent.

1. London Match by Len Deighton
2. I Claudius, Claudius the God by Robert Graves
3. Highland River by Neil M. Gunn
4. The Citadel by A.J. Cronin
5. The Dove of Venus by Olivia Manning
6. City of the Mind by Penelope Lively
7. The Progress of a Crime by Julian Symons
8. Antidote to Venom by Freeman Wills Crofts
9. My Brother Michael by Mary Stewart
10. Flowers for the Judge by Margery Allingham
11. Fludd by Hilary Mantell
12. Pied Piper by Nevil Shute
13. Miss Ranskill Comes Home by Barbara Euphan Todd
14. Katherine Wentworth by D.E. Stevenson
15. No Resistance by Evelyn Anthony
16. A Memorial Service by J.I.M. Stewart
17. The Madonna of the Astrolabe by J.I.M. Stewart
18. Redgauntlet by Sir Walter Scott
19. High Rising by Angela Thirkell
20. Wild Strawberries by Angela Thirkell

I’m planning to re-read Thirkell’s Barsetshire books from the beginning – in the correct order this time, so I hope I get further than number two in that series, it just depends how much readimg time I have, but I want to concentrate on books I haven’t read first.

Have you read any of these books? I’m wondering where I should start.

Ypres

After spending an afternoon in Bruges we drove on to Ypres or Ieper as the locals prefer to call it nowadays. We were there last year for the first time, mainly because we wanted to attend one of the services of remembrance that are held every evening at 8 pm at the Menin Gate. You can just see the edge of the massive gateway to the town in this photo. It has thousands of names of the ‘fallen’ on it. The road is closed off every evening which does annoy some of the locals, but as so many visitors are going there just to track down family graves, and it brings a lot of money into the local economy, I think it’s something that they’ll just have to put up with.

Menin Gate from street

The photo below is another view of the Menin Gate taken from the west.
Menin Gate from West

Below is another view of the Menin Gate and the moat which surrounds the town.
Menin Gate from ramparts

The photo below was taken from the ramparts near the Menin Gate and the houses are on the other side of the moat. They’re all individually designed and some are very smart looking.
houses in Ypres Belgium

I didn’t take any photos of the town of Ypres this time but you can see some I took last year here.

And we stayed at the same hotel which you can see here, we had much better weather last year.

This year we just took the photo below, in the evening.
Hotel Kasteelhof ‘t Hooghe

The Salzburg Connection by Helen MacInnes

 The Salzburg Connection cover

The Salzburg Connection by Helen MacInnes was first published in 1968. I remember reading some books by the author way back in the 1970s but haven’t read any since then, after reading this one I’ll have to track down as many others as I can because this was a really great read with loads of twists and turns.

It’s set some twenty-one years after the end of World War 2 but there are Nazis still around, they’ve been searching for things that had been hidden by them at the end of the war. There’s a bit of a race on to track down and recover a metal box which it’s thought has been hidden in a lake called Finstersee which is surrounded by the Austrian alps. Several such boxes have been found over the years, the Russians would also like to get their hands on this one, although what it might contain is a mystery.

This is a Cold War setting with spies and double agents galore – a great read.

I read this one for the Read Scotland 2017 Challenge.

Helen MacInnes was born in Glasgow and went to Glasgow University where she got a degree in French and German before going on to get a diploma in librarianship at London. During her librarianship career she chose the books for libraries in Dunbartonshire, which happens to be where I worked in libraries, but she was there decades before my days there.

Her husband was a British agent for MI6 and no doubt his experiences helped to fuel her imagination for espionage. Her second book Assignment in Brittany (1942), was required reading for Allied intelligence agents who were being sent to work with the French resistance against the Nazis. Four of her books were made into films. Later in life she and her husband moved to the US.

Have you read any of her books?

Rolling Stone by Patricia Wentworth

I’ve read and enjoyed a lot of Patricia Wentworth’s Miss Silver books but Rolling Stone (first published in 1940) is the first book that I’ve read of hers which isn’t a Miss Silver mystery. I was on a ferry sailing to Belgium when I started reading this one and coincidentally Rolling Stone begins in Belgium.

Peter Talbot has just booked into a hotel in Brussels and he realises that the man in the room next to his is in a very bad way. Spike Reilly is feverish and delirious and it’s obvious that he’s dying. Peter Talbot is intrigued by some of the things he has heard him say and despite the fact that he is on an assignment for his uncle – Frank Garrett of the Foreign Office – on the spur of the moment Peter decides to change identity with Reilly, swapping over passports and following clues that lead to a grand country house in England where a painting is stolen.

More crimes pile up and the search for Maud Millicent Simpson – England’s most deadly woman – is on. The only problem is that as she’s a master/mistress of disguise, nobody knows what she looks like.

I really enjoyed this one which has been published as an e-book by Dean Street Press. I downloaded it for free a few weeks ago and I think it’s still possible to do that now, have a look anyway if you’re interested at http://www.deanstreetpress.co.uk/books/went22

Lady Rose and Mrs Memmary by Ruby Ferguson

 Lady Rose and Mrs Memmary cover

Lady Rose and Mrs Memmary by Ruby Ferguson was first published in 1937 but it has been reprinted by Persephone Books and I was lucky enough to find it in a secondhand bookshop.

This book was apparently a favourite of the Queen as she was at that time (later the Queen Mother). I suspect that she felt very much in tune with Lady Rose, the main character in the book, as they shared very similar Scottish upbringings.

The book begins with a group of people asking if they can look around a grand house in the Scottish highlands. The old housekeeper is pleased to show them around, it’s a house that has seen better days and it’s hoped that new tenants will be found for it. Although the vistors are careful to let her know that they couldn’t afford to rent the house, the housekeeper is still happy to tell of the history of the place, the book switches from the present day to the past regularly, but is never confusing.

Like many wealthy Scots the owners of the house sent their only child – Lady Rose, to England to be educated. As she is very much a Scot, steeped in the romance surrounding the history of the country – particularly Mary, Queen of Scots – Lady Rose is very unhappy and is always happy to get back to her beloved Scotland. The story of her life is one of ups and downs and it’s an entertaining read which has been described as a love letter to Scotland. But it’s about snobbery, discrimination against women and money.

One thing did puzzle me – on page 164 wee Archie says:

“Tonight at the chair, we’ll have some battles where we beat the English.”

“We always beat the English” said Alistair hotly.

“Not at Bannockburn.”

“That was murder; Duncan says so. Wasn’t it Mamma?”

Well that is obviously wrong because Scotland did famously win the Battle of Bannockburn, I suspect that what the author meant to write was Culloden or maybe Flodden. I’m wondering if that was one of the reasons that the Queen Mother invited Ruby Ferguson to Buckingham Palace, to point out her mistake!

Ruby Ferguson was an English writer but Ferguson (her married name) is a Scottish surname, so maybe she married a Scot and fell in love with the country too.

I really dislike the endpapers though, completely inappropriate for the book, from 1937 of course but I feel that another more appropriate design must have been available for that year. The design is Masqueraders and I found an image of it on the V&A site.

masqueraders

I read this one for the Read Scotland 2017 Challenge.

More Bruges

St Salvator’s in Bruges is quite different from the only other St Salvator’s church that I know of, it’s in St Andrews University and is known fondly as St Sally‘s.

St Salvatore

They are well off for churches in Bruges, below is the Church of Our Lady

St Salvatore

We in Britain are used to underground car parks but this was new to me, an underground bicycle park.

Bicycle Park

I was quite amazed by that as there seem to be thousands of bikes parked on streets, I wonder how many bikes are taken into Bruges every day.

Like Ypres (Ieper) Bruges is a moated city and it still has a medieval gatehouse.

Gatehouse

It makes for a very scenic entrance into town.

Bosky Dell

Bosky Dell

I took these ones from the bridge leading into the town, it’s a lovely tranquil area and other tourists seemed to have neglected to wander here, which was a plus for us!

Bosky Dell