Christmas books

I was lucky and got a few books as Christmas gifts.

Portrait of a Murderer by Anne Meredith
A Horseman Riding By by R.F. Delderfield
English Garden Flowers by William Robinson (a lovely old gardening book)
The Oaken Heart by Margery Allingham
Murder in the Snow by Gladys Mitchell

I also got Pawn in Frankincese by Dorothy Dunnett – but that one didn’t make it into my photo.

Books for Christmas 2017

I intend to read The Oaken Heart soon, it’s the story of Margery Allingham’s village in wartime Britain.

At the moment I’m reading Long Summer Day, the first book in the Delderfield trilogy.
I’ve already finished reading Portrait of a Murderer but haven’t written about it yet.
The old gardening book will be one for dipping into from time to time I think.

This year I really want to concentrate on reading my own books, but no doubt that desperately alluring site – Fife libraries catalogue will lure me into temptation at some point!

Happy New Year!

Like many people I’m fairly glad to see the back of 2017, but given the MAYhem that has been unleashed on us in the UK – I’m trepidatious about 2018.

But heigh-ho – onwards and upwards. I hope that 2018 will be a good one for us all, so Happy New Year to anyone who drops in on me at Pining.

Every year there’s a torchlight procession down Edinburgh’s Royal Mile on the 30th of December. I think we might take part in it next year – I’m told it’s good fun.

The Classics Club Spin no. 16 – Down and Out in Paris and London

For the Classics Club Spin I got Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell which he wrote in 1933. It was only on the 28th that I realised that I had to read it before today, luckily it’s a very short read at just around 110 pages.

In 1928 George Orwell moved to Paris and ended up living the life of a poverty stricken down and out. No doubt it was all good copy for his writing, in this book he describes what it was like to be jobless and starving in Paris. He had in fact had his money stolen and I’m sure that he would have been able to get more money from friends if he had really become desperate so the experience wouldn’t have been quite the same as your average down and out.

Eventually he got a job as a dishwasher in a posh hotel, a nightmarish and exhausting existence, he describes the disgusting insanitary conditions in the unseen background of such establishments – not for the squeamish, but honestly for anyone who has had any sort of experience in catering none of it will be particularly shocking. I know that one head chef in a hotel frequented by the Queen in the 1970s routinely spat in the frying pan fat to see if it was hot enough!

Going for days on end with no food and having to pawn the clothes on his back in an attempt to survive must have been no fun, but Orwell must always have had the ability to get money from someone as he must have had friends who would have helped him out if he had asked, unlike the rest of the down and outs.

When he did borrow money to return to London so that he could compare the two cities and the experiences of destitute men he had a lot to learn about the rules that tramps had to stick to if they didn’t want to end up in prison. It seems it was easier to get food as a tramp in England, there were religious groups who would provide bread, margarine and tea – in return for being preached at. No mention of soup kitchens though which surprised me, bread and marg seems to be what tramps lived on in London.

They were only allowed to stay in a ‘spike’ for one night before having to move on to the next one, usually about 14 miles away, walking was the only way to get there, otherwise you would be sleeping on the Thames embankment if you were lucky. A ‘spike’ seems to have been a section of the local workhouse. Tramps weren’t allowed to sit down, they had to keep on the move, literally tramping around. Begging would land you in prison if you were caught at it. There were very few female tramps, almost certainly because they could usually get some sort of live-in employment as a servant.

Due to the fact that all your time was taken up tramping around it wasn’t possible to get any work, not that there would have been many jobs around then anyway. There were various types of dosshouses that you could get a bed of sorts in if you had some money. Sadly the other men were often old soldiers from World War 1, the accommodation was always filthy and usually so crowded that they were breathing into each other’s faces. As George Orwell died of tuberculosis it’s a fair bet that he contracted the disease whilst being down and out in Paris and London.

Ninety years or so on from when this was written things don’t seem to be a lot better for some poor souls in our society – a sobering thought.

Some 2017 Books

According to Goodreads I read 120 books in 2017, I think I managed 136 in 2016, but it isn’t a race so I’m not bothered about that.

Some highlights for me were:

I completed reading Elizabeth Jane Howard’s Cazalet Chronicles, the last two in 2017 – I should say I devoured them, I loved that series and I imagine I’ll revisit them all in the future.

His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet was another favourite.

The Betrayal by Helen Dunmore was the first book by that author that I had read and I really enjoyed it. Sadly she died earlier this year.

I also discovered E.H. Young and read Chatterton Square and Miss Mole, both very enjoyable.

I got around to reading all of Nella Last’s books – at last and they were right up my street.

Batavia’s Graveyard by Mike Dash was another great read. I hadn’t even heard of the author before.

Journey into the Whirlwind by Evgenia Ginzburg was a fascinating but uncomfortable read about life under Stalin.

I began to work my way through Len Deighton’s books and also John Le Carre’s. I’ll be continuing that project in 2018.

I also began reading R.F. Delderfield’s books for the first time and have recently added three more to my TBR pile.

I also read a lot by D.E. Stevenson and Mary Stewart. They were part of my reading Scottish authors project and I’ll be continuing with that in 2018 too.

I read a lot of the British Library Crime Classics and vintage crime in general

Penelope Lively has become a favourite author and I really loved her Life in the Garden which is a sort of memoir.

I’m now up to date with the Three Pines books written by Louise Penny after reading her latest – Glass Houses. I love visiting that Quebecois village.

It has been a shockingly bad reading year for classics. I’m quite strict with myself when it comes to categorising classics, no doubt others would think I have read a lot of classics as most of the books I’ve read are by long dead authors who happen still to be in print. I’ve only read I, Claudius and Claudius the God by Robert Graves. I can’t decide if E.H. Young and Elizabeth Taylor should count as classic authors, they’re Virago Modern Classics.

I read 38 books by Scottish authors and only 12 non-fiction books apparently – must do better!

I generally don’t do New Year resolutions but I really intend to read Trollope, Dumas, Zola and classic Russian authors in 2018. As they are generally chunksters I doubt if I’ll be reading as many as 120 books in 2018.

Peter Pan jigsaw puzzle

Winter is always jigsaw season and one of my bookish Christmas presents was this Peter Pan jigsaw puzzle. It’s a plan of Kensington Gardens and all the things that happen there. I’ve got a thing about Peter Pan but it seems that not many people have actually read the original book.

Peter Pan Jigsaw

At first sight I thought this would be a nightmare to complete. I soon knew it was a nightmare, but you know what those puzzles are like! It fairly grabbed us and we became obsessed with it. With the aid of a magnifier we managed it.

A Scream in Soho by John G. Brandon

A Scream in Soho cover

A Scream in Soho by John G. Brandon was first published in 1940 but my copy is a British Library Crime Classics reprint. It’s the first book that I’ve read by this author.

I got the impression that this book was written with the author’s tongue very much in his cheek. At times it’s just a bit daft and unlikely, but still entertaining. Detective Inspector McCarthy is quite a departure from the norm as he’s a Soho lad and had a very rough upbringing, that stands him in good stead though as he knows the types of thugs that live in the area and the sorts of things that they get up to.

It’s London’s Soho in wartime, so it’s dark and grim and there are a lot of Italian gangsters about and supposed Austrian refugees aren’t at all what they seem. There’s a murder early on – plenty of evidence but no body!

That exclamation mark of mine (I’m quite partial to them at times) is used by me as usual in a cheery and light-hearted fashion. I had to laugh when I read a Goodreads ‘review’ of this book by someone who was outraged by it, mainly because one of the chapter titles has an exclamation mark and the book is apparently homophobic, transgenderist, ableist (what is that? Prejudice against disabilities?) and a whole lot of other ‘ists’ and ‘ics’. Yet again I’m left wondering why people bother to read older books which aren’t likely to be as politically correct as most books are today. I suspect they’re looking for something to be outraged about!

John G. Brandon might not be one of the big hitters of crime fiction, but he did have a good sense of humour, and that led to this being an entertaining read.

Christmas Update

A fine time was had by us all, both for J’s birthday and Christmas, but after stuffing our faces for two days running we were glad to get out of the house and stretch our legs on Cellardyke beach this afternoon. We took part in their beach clean up- a first for both of us.

Compared to lots of beaches I’ve seen it looked fairly clean to me but when we got in amongst the rocks we found lots of plastic bottles, plastic bags, polystyrene, insulation foam, rope and netting from fishing boats, broken creels, casing from electrical equipment, hub caps …. the list went on and on.

Luckily it was a gorgeous blue sky and sun shiny day and we were warm enough while we were actually picking litter, despite the fact that the rock pools were covered with ice, surprising as it’s obviously sea water.

As it got towards 3 o’clock the sun disappeared and the chill came down on us and hot pies provided by a local shopkeeper were very welcome at the end of it all. I’d definitely take part in any other beach clean ups, it’s a good way of getting to know people – and their dogs.

Sadly there’s no photographic evidence though – I was too busy!

But you can see some images of the beach here although we were at the far end of it where it’s much rockier.

Merry Christmas


Merry Christmas!

A certain person in our family (not me) has his birthday on Christmas Eve, so that’s always a very busy day for me, cooking for everyone for that celebration. Thankfully I have today off from the kitchen as others in our extended family are doing the honours!

Have a lovely time – whatever you’re doing.


Ring a ring o’ roses

It was when I was reading Louise Penny’s latest book Glass Houses that I discovered that in some parts of the world – mainly the ‘new world’ – the words to Ring a ring o’ roses are slightly different with the word ‘ashes’ being substituted where atishoo should be. It’s a bizarre word to choose I think and makes no sense, but that’s what happens as things evolve, a sort of Chinese whisper ensues.

At school we were all taught that what seems like a charming nursery rhyme is actually about the Black Death/Plague as it describes the different stages of the disease.

The ‘ring of roses’ is the red rash that appeared on victim’s skins, usually at the top of the leg to begin with before moving on to under the arm and all over. So the pocketful of posies is describing the rash.

Atishoo atishoo (not ashes) – the next stage is sneezing and a chill, followed by fever, breathing problems and –

We all fall down is – death.

A cheery subject for a nursery rhyme – not. But that’s par for the course. Mary, Mary, quite contrary is about Bloody Queen Mary (Tudor) who had thousands of non-Catholic people executed after Henry VIII’s death.

Most fairy tales in their original guise are quite terrifying, but they’re all warnings of what can happen to children if they don’t take care. For instance Rumpelstiltskin is about the need for young girls to keep away from old men, that needle that they might get pricked with was something much more dangerous – a rumpled stilt in a skin in fact!

I would normally avoid putting children on here but as the clip below has been put on You Tube by a nursery group, I’m still not sure if that’s a good idea. Anyway, they get the song right.

Solstice Bells – Jethro Tull – Top of the Pops 1976

It is indeed the Winter Solstice which always makes me feel cheery, it’s psychological I know because the nights still take quite a while to get noticeably lighter at night, but as far as I’m concerned the worst of it is under our belt. I can look forward to evening walks in daylight or night time gardening.

Jethro Tull performed Solstice Bells on Top of the Pops in 1976, the year we got married as it happens. The words are below if you feel like singing along!

Happy Winter Solstice.

Now is the solstice of the year
Winter is the glad song that you hear
Seven maids move in seven time
Have the lads up ready in a line
Ring out these bells. Ring out. Ring solstice bells. Ring solstice bells

Join together ‘neath the mistletoe
By the holy oak whereon it grows
Seven druids dance in seven time
Sing the song the bells call loudly chiming
Ring out these bells, ring out. Ring solstice bells. Ring solstice bells

Praise be to the distant sister sun
Joyful as the silver planets run
Seven maids move in seven time
Sing the song the bells call loudly chiming
Ring out these bells, ring out. Ring solstice bells. Ring solstice bells
Ring out, ring out those solstice bells. Ring out, ring out those solstice bells.

Praise be to the distant sister sun
Joyful as the silver planets run
Seven maids move in seven time
Sing the song the bells call loudly chiming
Ring out these bells, ring out. Ring solstice bells. Ring solstice bells
Ring on, ring out. Ring on, ring out. Ring on, ring out. Ring on, ring out.