Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian

Master and Commander cover

I decided to read Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian because it’s the first book in his Aubrey-Maturin series. I recently discovered that an ancestor of mine was transported to Australia (for campaigning for the vote to be extended to all men) on the Royal Naval ship Surprise, but that is the third in the series. Sadly the series begins in the early 19th century, but William Skirving was transported on 1794, but I’m looking forward to reading O’Brian’s description of the ship.

This is the first book by Patrick O’Brian that I’ve read . I can see why his books are very popular but it took me a while to get into this one as for my liking there wasn’t enough in the way of character and there was just a bit too much action. But by the time I got towards the end it seemed to have evened out a bit.

Jack Aubrey has been unlucky in the past and his career in the Royal Navy hasn’t been as he wished, so when he unexpectedly is given the command of His Majesty’s Sloop Sophie he’s absolutely thrilled. Sophie is undoubtedly not a thing of beauty, she isn’t all that strong either but Aubrey quickly gets down to fitting her out with a crew, guns and powder as well as food and water. He feels especially lucky to sign up a young doctor/surgeon, the crew are always much happier with a doctor on board. Stephen Maturin is just as happy to get on board as he is at rock bottom.

Aubrey wants money. Basically the British government of the time supported piracy and the Royal Navy went about attacking foreign ships, seizing the cargo and imprisoning the crew, and the British crew got a cut of the ‘prize’, with the bulk of it going to the British treasury. So the book lurches from naval action to naval action, with a lot of sailing terms being bandied about. It was all go with the Sophie sailing along the Mediterranean coast attacking every ship they saw, and being very duplicitous about it too.

I could have been doing with a glossary, I did end up looking up words such as snow, settee and tartan – all different types of ships, and there were a lot more of them. In my copy of the book there’s a nice drawing of a square-rigged ship, hung out to dry in a calm. The sails are all numbered – all 21 of them, so when the mizzen topgallant mainsail was mentioned, you could look and see exactly where on the ship it was. Until then I had no idea that the phrase ‘hung out to dry‘ was a naval term.

I must admit that O’Brian writes some lovely descriptive passages, below is a sample.

Stephen could remember an evening when he had sat there in the warm, deepening twilight, watching the sea; it had barely a ruffle on its surface, and yet the Sophie picked up enough moving air with her topgallants to draw a long straight whispering furrow across the water, a line brilliant with unearthly phosphorescence, visible for a quarter of a mile behind her. Days and nights of unbelievable purity.

I’ll definitely keep on with the series as I think the books are historically authentic and there’s a lot to be learned from them, in a painless fashion. The Times has dubbed O’Brian as being ‘The greatest historical novelist of all time.’ Have you read any oh his books and if so would you agree with The Times?

You can read what Helen @She Reads Novels thought of the book here.

St Serf’s – Dunning, Perth and Kinross

If it hadn’t been such a dreich weekend we would have driven to the Japanese Garden at Cowden as it has just opened for the new season and I imagine that the cherry trees will be at their best now. We went there last September for the first time and the autumn colour of the acers was lovely and we promised ourselves we’d go there again in the spring. If the weather cheers up this week we will go there.

Anyway, thinking about that reminded me that I never did get around to writing a blogpost about the village of Dunning which we stopped off at on the way to Cowden – so here goes!

Although I’m not at all religious I do love old churches and St Serf’s in Dunning is certainly old. It dates from around 1200 but it isn’t in use as a church now, it’s looked after by Historic Environment Scotland and is open to vistors.
St Serf's , Dunning

Inside the church is really dark and like all such churches it has been extended and mucked about with over the centuries, but it does house a very fine stone cross – the Dupplin Cross which dates from around 800 and is dedicated to one of the last kings of Pictland – King Constantine, son of Fergus. Presumably the decoration on the front is of the king on his horse.
Dupplin Stone cross

The carving on it is still in great condition considering that until 1999 it was outside. As you can see there’s a man playing a harp , he’s thought to be King David. This is the side of the stone.
Dupplin Stone Cross, Dunning

Dupplin Stone, Dunning

St Serf window, Dunning

You can read about the church here.

There’s not much nore of interest in the village of Dunning, but there is a pretty wee burn near the church.
Dunning Burn

Someone has put a lot of effort into the garden below.
Dunning garden, Perth and Kinross

The house beow is called Straw House for some reason. It’s very Scottish and solid looking, it has wee windows so it might not be too difficult to heat – or maybe that’s me just being optimistic on the owner’s behalf! This house is apparently the only house which survived the Jacobean burning of the village in 1716.
Straw House , Dunning, Perth and Kinross

It seems that we missed quite a lot on our quick trip to Dunning on our way to the Japanse Garden. When we do go back there we’ll have to look for the memorial to a witch burnt at the stake in 1657 and a bit of a Roman encampment.

A woodland walk in Balbirnie, Fife

I hope you’re up for another walk along the margins of Balbirnie estate in Fife. It was a mild and relatively calm day, I’m not really keen on walking near trees when the wind blows hard – as it often does here. It’s just too dangerous.

Balbirnie Walk

We were ambling along quite happily when a crashing noise alerted us to the group of deer that we would never have noticed otherwise as they’re so well camouflaged.
Balbirnie Walk

Just to the right of centre you might be able to see the white behind of one of the deer, if it wasn’t for their scut you would never see them.
Balbirnie Walk 3 Deer closer
There were three of them but I just managed to snap the one below as it shot past.
Balbirnie Walk ,  Deer

Today I wanted to take some photos of the garden which is looking so colourful at the moment, but my camera had run out of juice. By the time it was fired up again the flowers I wanted to snap were in half shade, maybe tomorrow we’ll have the sunshine again. If I don’t get a photo soon the wind will have blown off the ornamental dwarf cherry blossom!

Three Terms at Uplands by Angela Brazil

Three Terms at Uplands cover

Three Terms at Uplands by Angela Brazil was published in 1945 and it was her second last book before her death in 1947. I think her later books are slimmer than her earlier volumes.

Claire and Colin Johnstone’s parents have been killed in a car accident in Mexico where their father had been working as a mining engineer, so the children are sent back home to England to live with their grandparents. Their young Aunt Dorothy has sailed to Mexico to accompany them back and the children make friends with some of the people on board.

Back in England their aunt and grandparents cocoon them in love and the children eventually settle down to their new life, but times are hard as money is scarce and Aunt Dorothy who had been keen to study art in Cornwall with some talented artists ends up having to become an art teacher to help support the children.

Colin, being the boy is without question sent to the same private school that his father and grandfather had gone to. But when it comes to Claire she’s expected to make do with the local high school as there’s no money for her to go to a boarding school.

A stroke of luck leads to her getting a partial scholarship to Uplands which is apparently a very good boarding school, and so begins her journey from unsure new girl to a more confident personality who helps out with a younger girl.

This was a very quick read, entertaining and so true to life as I laughed (or should I say huffed) when Colin’s education was seen as being so much more important than Claire’s. The exact same thing happened to a schoolfriend of mine in the late 1960s – 70s. Mind you Morag did very well at the local high school along with the rest of us, whereas her brother ran away from his posh boarding school as soon as he turned 16 – and joined the Merchant Navy!

Transformation by Mary Shelley – 3 short stories

 Embers of War cover

Transformation by Mary Shelley is a quick read at only 101 pages. It contains three short stories by Mary Shelley. I had only read her Frankenstein before and I had put off reading that for years as I didn’t think it would be my kind of thing, but I was agreeably surprised by it.

Transformation, first written in 1831 is set mainly in in Genoa and it’s an account told by Guido who is a young man who had been promised to Juliet since childhood. But Guido had grown into a reckless spendthrift and over the years he has lost all of the land and property left to him by his father. Eventually Juliet’s father decides he doesn’t want his daughter to be married to Guido and Guido is sent away. It’s an enjoyable gothic morality tale.

The Mortal Immortal was first published in 1834 and as you would expect is about the pitfalls of living forever.

The Evil Eye was first published in 1830 and I didn’t enjoy this one as much as the others. The setting is Greece and Albania and features child abduction.

None of the stories are exactly ground breaking and wouldn’t even have been back when they were first published, but they’re still entertaining.

I read this book for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2019.

Malice in Wonderland by Nicholas Blake

Malice in Wonderland cover

Malice in Wonderland by Nicholas Blake (Cecil Day-Lewis) was first published in 1940 but my copy is a 1947 reprint. Apparently this is titled The Summer Camp Mystery in the US. It has also been titled Malice with Murder and Murder with Malice. This is the sixth book in Blake’s Nigel Strangeways series.

The setting is Wonderland – a holiday camp in England. Hitler gets a brief mention but the book was obviously written just before war was declared.

The holidaymakers at Wonderland are a mixed bunch ranging from Cockneys to some rather well-heeled people, but when a prankster calling himself The Mad Hatter starts to cause trouble they’re all equally perturbed. As the pranks get progressively nastier Captain Wise the manager of the camp calls in Nigel Strangeways, a private detective. Suspicion falls on several people, and some even suspect themselves, but this one kept me guessing almost right to the end. I really enjoyed it.

Until I read this book I had been under the impression that holiday camps hadn’t been in existence in the UK until after World War 2 as I had read that somewhere. This book describes the wonderful London chefs who provided the meals, a ball room, a concert hall with professional entertainers and bars. All very luxurious compared with what most people would have had at home. The camp is set on a clifftop overlooking the sea and it occurred to me that cruises have now taken over from holiday camps which sound like they were just static cruises, and as some people never even get off a cruise ship when they reach their destinations – they might as well be in a holiday camp such as Wonderland.

Another walk – Cockburnspath and Cove, Scottish Borders / Berwickshire part 2

To get down to the right hand side of the beach at Cove you have to walk through this tunnel. It was constructed years ago and goes through the cliffs. It was no mean feat to build it and it’s very dark inside, you just have to aim for the light at the end of it and watch out for the potholes.

Cove Tunnel

At the beginning it’s shored up with brick but I think most of it inside is just rough rock face, but as it’s so dark in there I don’t know for sure.
Cove Tunnel

To get over to the beach on the other side you have to go back through the tunnel. These cottages are all that’s left of what had once been a thriving fishing community, all of the other cottages have been swept away by the sea.

Cove Harbour

Cove Harbour

Thecottages are only used to store fishing gear.

Cove Harbour , creels

The houses below are bit more modern and set back from the seashore. I still wouldn’t fancy being in them during a storm though.

Cove Harbour

Looking closer you can see that the cliffs are well upholstered with gorse bushes, they fairly brighten the place and seem to be in bloom most of the year – just don’t fall into it!

Cove Harbour

gorse

A train unexpectedly shot across a field. It’s many many years since I had toddlers walking beside me but whenever I see a train I still have an urge to point it out to them!

train, Cockburnspath

We walked back to Cockburnspath by a different route and came across this rather grand ram. When we first spotted him he was having a fine time attacking the hessian sacking wit his huge horns but he stopped to scrutinise us. Obviously we were more interesting, or just a welcome distraction. He was probably bored but seemed too aggresive to have any company in the field with him.

Ram

Just beyond the ram’s field are these farm buildings, very neglected and seemingly unused. Whenever I see places like this I just itch to put them to rights. I hate that farmers just let old buildings fall down.

Farm buildings, near Cove, Scottish Borders

Farm  buildings near Cove

Farm  near Cove
We walked along farmland paths
Farmland, Cockburnspath, Scottish Borders
and then along the field margins.
Farm view  sheep, Cove, Scottish Borders

And back to Cockburnspath for a well earned coffee.

Farmland , Cockburnspath, Scottish Borders

Another walk – Cockburnspath and Cove, Scottish Borders / Berwickshire

We had arranged to go and visit our friend Eric last Monday and luckily it turned out to be a beautiful day for it. But then it always seems to be a blue sky sparkling sort of a day around Cove and Cockburnspath in Berwickshire whenever we go there. Why not join me on my walk there?

The lands of Cockburnspath were part of the dowry given by James IV of Scotland to Margaret Tudor (daughter of Henry VII of England) on their marriage in 1503, it’s a lovely place but so off the beaten track that few people seem to know about the place. Our visits always include a walk down to the coast to the teeny wee historic harbour of Cove. This time we went the scenic way along narrow lanes, avoiding the main road. This flowering currant was putting on a good show beside one rather remote cottage.
Flowering currant, Cockburnspath, Berwickshire. Scotland

Stone Cottages

The lane becomes a narrow footpath, as you can see the daffodils are out.
Path , Cockburnspath, Cove, Berwickshire, Scotland

It isn’t long before you catch a glimpse of the coast in the distance across some fields.
Cove bluffs

I was relieved to see that the tide wasn’t too far in.
Cove sea , Berwickshire, Scotland

Cove sea , Cockburnspath, Berwickshire, Scotland

Uther the red and white setter was in a hurry to get down there, but I lagged behind him, Jack and Eric, taking my time to get some photos.

Cove Path, near Cockburnspath

Cove, near Cockburnspath, Berwickshire, Scotland

It certainly felt like spring had sprung, but Uther didn’t brave the sea, in fact he never does. He just loves the sights and smells, and enjoys digging up crabs to crunch now and again. I suspect those crabs must be dead but they don’t seem to cause him any harm.
Uther

I’ll continue with our journey tomorrow. I hope you’re up for it, it’s just a pity that you can’t catch the fresh coastal air.

Meanwhile you can see more of my older photos here.

To the River by Olivia Laing

To the River cover

To the River by Olivia Laing is about a journey along the length of the River Ouse in Sussex. The Ouse is of course the river that Virginia Woolf drowned herself in in 1941. I believe Laing wrote that the Ouse is 42 miles long, but not all of it is accessible by walkers. I wanted to know exactly how long she had walked but perhaps she never worked it out.

I don’t know what I really expected of this book but I found it to be a bit of a disappointment. I began by enjoying the meandering of the author’s mind, never knowing which subject might come up next. There’s geography and history, odd snippets of information such as that “the silver-leaved tormentil can both stem the flow of blood and dye leather red.” She carried out her walk during mid-summer so the fields were full of wild flowers and she wrote multiple lists of flowers that she had seen, which is fine if you know the flowers. Some more in-depth descriptions would have been useful for those who aren’t so well-versed in wild flowers. She wrote about The Piltdown Forgery, Shakespeare, Alice in Wonderland, The Wind in the Willows – all sorts, she’s definitely eclectic, but ultimately for me – as a person who loves rivers – there just wasn’t enough in it about the Ouse. Also the author felt the need to tell us about the dead animals that she stumbled across and even sought out (by smell) along the way – bizarre.

The reason for Laing embarking on this project was her reaction to the end of a relationship and thoughts of Matthew kept popping up. Apparently neither of them could agree to live outwith their own counties. Eventually Matthew went back to his beloved Yorkshire, but really it would have been better if he had never made an appearance in the book as it all seemed rather pathetic, with the author weeping down the phone to him which must have made him think that he had made a good move.

I believe this was Olivia Laing’s first attempt at writing a nature book and it might be something that she has improved on and other readers have loved it. The Sunday Times said: ‘A beautifully written meditation on landscape.’

Oxford English Dictionary adds Scots words

The Guardian reported on some new words which have been added into the Oxford English dictionary recently and quite a few of them are Scottish. You can read the article here.

Apparently members of the public were asked to send in words to the OED that they thought deserved to be included in the new edition. I knew nothing about this but luckily some of my favourite Scots words now appear – such as fantoosh, bidie-in and sitooterie.

I’m happy that Scots words are being taken up by people living elsewhere, it’s far better than them dying out which was a possibility back in the days when children used to be told off by teachers for using Scots words and phrases.