Mr Fortune’s Maggot by Sylvia Townsend Warner

Mr Fortune's Maggot cover

Previously I had only read Sylvia Townsend Warner‘s Lolly Willowes, and enjoyed it although I suspect not quite as much as many people did. But when I saw this old paperback in an Edinburgh bookshop I decided to buy it although I had never heard of it before.

Mr Fortune’s Maggot was published in 1927, the second book by the author. It’s not a very attractive title, but apparently in this case ‘maggot’ means a fad, a whimsical or perverse fancy.

Mr Fortune is a bachelor, he had worked in a bank for years before he decided to become a vicar, he was drawn to missionary work and eventually found himself on a Pacific island called Fanua, hoping to convert the inhabitants to Christianity. I have to say that my heart sank when I realised the subject matter of this book but it ended up being a good read.

Mr Fortune’s endeavours get off to a good start as he inadvertently makes a convert on his first day on the island. A young boy has become attached to him and helps him build his home and shows him how to survive on the island. He makes no more headway in converting the rest of the islanders who are a relaxed and welcoming lot, happy with their own form of worship, each has a small wooden god of their own, a sort of lucky totem.

Mr Fortune thinks he is taking care of Lueli (whom he has christened Theodore) but really it’s the opposite and Lueli sees Mr Fortune as a responsibility. A volcanic eruption changes everything with Mr Fortune losing his faith. Eventually it dawns on Mr Fortune that he is an interloper and that he is doing harm, has no right to try and change the way the islanders live or to meddle with their religious beliefs.

Considering this book was published in 1929 that’s quite an amazing thing for an author to write. Sylvia Townsend Warner was decades ahead of the times in thinking that colonialism was an evil. Thankfully the UK gave it up long ago. Sadly there are still people who believe that they should go out and become missionaries and I have a nasty feeling that a lot of the inter-tribal violence in places like Africa nowadays is the upshot of that.

Anyway, it turned out to be a surprisingly enjoyable read. It may seem like sacrilege to some people but I liked it more than Lolly Willowes.

From the Guardian Review

Edward Lear

Jenny Uglow has written a book about Edward Lear – Mr Lear: A Life of Art and Nonsense. I enjoyed reading the review of it here in Saturday’s Guardian Review section, if you’re interested in Edward Lear’s work you’ll probably like it too.

Short story collections by Ruth Rendell and P.D. James have been published, ideal reading for long autumn evenings according to this article by Sarah Perry.

ruth rendell p d james

Ian Jack has written an article about a book on islands and the people who live on them. Islander: A Journey Around our Archipelago by Patrick Barkham. He visited 11 islands out of the 6,300 which comprise of Great Britain, although only 132 are inhabited all year round.

Patrick Barkham

If you want to know what it’s like to run a bookshop in Wigtown, Scotland’s secondhand book capital – have a read at this article by Shaun Bythell.

Norwegian settlements

Joan @Planet Joan mentioned that the photographs of the fjords and mountains in Norway reminded her of the Scandinavian murder series on TV and I can see what she means although when you’re actually there it just looks majestic, despite the greyness.

Houses, Lysefjord, Norway

But it means that the occasional patches of greenery, the rare places where there is enough earth to actually grow some grass long enough to make hay, are a sort of Norwegian equivalent to seeing an oasis in the desert. A real feast for the eyes.

Green Space, Lysefjord, Norway
I’m sure that must be what makes these wee settlements so attractive and comfortable looking, well that and the fact that they look like something that a model train enthusiast would set up to landscape their train tracks.

Some of these houses are only used in the summertime, there’s a danger of avalanches in the winter and even in the summer there’s danger as some of the houses now have huge piles of scree balancing behind them. It looks like if you moved one small piece of stone then the lot would come tumbling down. I saw a few houses that I definitely wouldn’t want to live in for that reason.

Reflections, Norway

New to me books

For the past couple of days we’ve been back in my beloved west of Scotland, visiting a couple of National Trust properties – amongst other things. A trip to Byres Road in Glasgow’s west end is always on the itinerary and I was lucky to find four modern paperbacks and Mary Berry’s Baking Bible at some secondhand bookshops there. I now have regrets that I passed up the chance to buy a few rare old books that I thought were hideously expensive, because I now know that they were in fact absolute bargains. So annoying – but that’s life.

Early October Book Haul

Anyway, as you can see I also bought:

Lucia in Wartime by Tom Holt
The Day of the Storm by Rosamunde Pilcher
The Town in Bloom by Dodie Smith
Death of a Busybody by George Bellairs

Lots of people seem to be reading George Bellairs books at the moment but I haven’t read any yet. It’s a fair wee while since I read anything by Rosamunde Pilcher, this one is set in Cornwall, she seems to veer between Scotland and Cornwall for her settings, I like a Cornish setting – always have since way back in my Malory Towers reading days, and it’s an awful lot easier for me to go there via books than to travel the 500 miles or so from here.

I like Dodie Smith although – as I recall – I Capture the Castle isn’t my favourite. Controversial? What do you think? And lastly Lucia in Wartime is of course not by E.F. Benson, but Tom Holt is quite good at writing in Benson’s style and as I adore the Mapp and Lucia books and just about any domestic fiction set in World War 2 it is right up my street, so I’m really looking forward to reading that one. In fact it has jumped straight to the top of my TBR queue, unfair on the many that have languished there – sometimes for years, but a few days back in Tilling with Mapp and Lucia is just what I need now.

The recipes in the Mary Berry Baking Bible look sumptuous although with her lemon meringue pie featuring a large tin of condensed milk as part of the filling ingredients it’s fair to say that none of the recipes are for the calorie counters among us. I’m going to have to work my way very slowly through the 250 recipes in the book!

Have you read any of these books?

The Cavern, Liverpool

For some reason I had been under the impression that The Cavern had been demolished years ago, but it turns out that they only knocked down 25% of it, so it was a must visit destination for us during our recent trip to Liverpool with our friends Martin and Sue.
The Cavern

Just imagine how many famous performers have traipsed down the stairs into The Cavern! It seemed a long way down too.
The Cavern stairs

The place was packed out with drinkers and people like ourselves who were just there to soak up a wee bit of the atmosphere. There was a chap on the stage playing guitar and he discovered that a woman at the front had come over from Belfast, Frances was celebrating her 40th birthday and she asked him to play Give Peace a Chance which he did. Perfect for a sing song! And I imagine something often in the mind of a person from Belfast.

The Cavern

I had a good walk around the place, the walls are covered with old photos of the many people who have performed there over the years, not only The Beatles. But it was their photos that I found strangely moving, it’s all so sad that the best two are no longer with us.

Beatles Memorabilia

Fans from all over the world have written their names all over the brickwork. Above the photos a sign says that The Beatles played there 292 times between the 9th of February 1961 and the 3rd of August 1963
Beatles Memorabilia

A very young looking Chuck Berry was one of the many others who have played there.

Chuck Berry Memorabilia

The photo below is of the entrance, which is ‘new’, well certainly not the original, presumably that one was what was demolished for some reason – years ago – that 25%.
The Cavern new entrance

If you’re going to Liverpool, even if you aren’t a huge Beatles fan but are into music then you should definitely make time to visit The Cavern. I think there will always be a bit of a Beatles sing-song going on mind you!

Suicide Excepted by Cyril Hare

Suicide Excepted cover

Suicide Excepted by Cyril Hare was first published in 1939 and it’s the first book by Cyril Hare that I’ve read. His real name was Alfred Gordon Clark and for his day job he was a judge, that must have given him plenty of ideas for his writing.

Inspector Mallett of the C.I.D. has just had a very disappointing lunch in the roadside hotel where he is having a short break. A brief chat of mutual commiseration with another guest on the poor food on offer leads to Mallett becoming a witness in a subsequent inquest.

Was it murder, an accident or suicide? A lot rests on the outcome and this one kept me guessing so I’ll definitely read more by this author.

The Methods of Sergeant Cluff by Gil North

The Methods of Sergeant Cluff cover

The Methods of Sergeant Cluff by Gil North was first published in 1961 but my copy is a British Library Crime Classics re-print. It has an introduction by Martin Edwards. This is the first book I’ve read by Gil North, I can’t say I’m wild about it, I think I’ll probably give it a three on Goodreads. It has occurred to me though that quite possibly the author wrote this book as part of the successful anti death penalty campaign that was going on in the early 1960s. It was a time when there had been several miscarriages of justice and the British juries became disinclined to bring in a guilty verdict for murder, in case they got it wrong.

The setting is a small town on the edge of the Yorkshire moors, it’s a wet night and a young woman’s body is found face down on a cobbled street. Jane Trundle had been an assistant in a chemist’s shop.

There’s only one CID man in the division, Sergeant Cluff, a typical rough no nonsense North of England man, independent and stubborn. He’s a bit of a loner and his colleagues seem to resent his previous successes.

The whole town seems to think that the culprit is a young man who has held a torch for the victim for ages, his horror of the whole situation just makes matters worse, but Cluff is determined to investigate properly.

The trouble with this one is that Cluff seems like such a stereotype detective, along the lines of Morse and many other such mavericks, but maybe he didn’t seem such a cliche in the early 1960s.

I love the front cover though, it has been taken from a British Rail Yorkshire Dales travel poster. I love that style.

Olden, Norway

Olden was the second place we sailed to on our recent trip to Norway. I had never even heard of the place, I felt a bit embarrassed by that but actually visiting Olden cured me of that as it’s really a very small place, but rather lovely.

River
We were keen to get off the Black Watch and into the lovely countryside, we had eschewed (how do you pronounce that word? I opt for shoo rather than chew) the organised trips and took to the road, winding through some house lined streets and going up into the road that leads to the scenic Oldeelva river.

It wasn’t a blue sky day but I’m quite glad of that as the low wispy cloud was so atmospheric.
Oldeelva river ,Olden

Oldeelva river , Olden

In parts the river became a roaring torrent.
Oldeelva river falls , Olden

Walking further on you reach a lake, called Floen. When we got back to the ship later that day we seemed to be regarded as heroes for managing to walk that far, and back again of course. The onlly other people who went there under their own steam had used hired bikes, and we beat them there!

Lake at Olden

I had wanted to go and visit a glacier too, but if we had gone on that arranged trip we wouldn’t have been able to do the walk, a glacier visit will have to wait for now.
Lake  at Olden

The photo below is taken from the bridge over the river at Olden looking up the valley back towards Lake Floen.
looking up valley  at Olden

On the way back to the Black Watch we decided to take the path along the opposite side of the river, but eventually the ground became very boggy so we had to go further up the embankment onto the hillside where it was drier. All in all I think we must have walked about seven miles or so. The photo below of Olden and the Black Watch at anchor was taken when we were really quite tired and longing to reach our temporary home. It was a great afternoon out though!

looking back to Olden

Redgauntlet by Sir Walter Scott

Redgauntlet cover

Redgauntlet by Sir Walter Scott was first published in 1824. I’ve wanted to read this one for ages, but I can’t say that it is one of my favourites. Scott is of course very wordy, and I usually get used to that very quickly, but this one seemed like an awful long road to reach what the author wanted to say which was that the Jacobite cause was well and truly over and the Hanoverian King George sitting in London had no need to fear any other Jacobite rebellions. Scott was actually very much involved with the British royal family, he masterminded George IV’s visit to Edinburgh in 1822 and even designed the clothes that he wore for it. Yes we have Scott to blame for all that tartanry and fol-de-rol lace and velvet, although thankfully nobody has been keen to emulate that king completely as George IV insisted on wearing pink tights with his kilt!

Anyway, back to the book – young Darsie Latimer is a bit of a harum scarum and while on an adventure on the Solway Firth close to the English border he ends up getting kidnapped by Redgauntlet. His good friend Alan Fairford hears about this and decides to ride to his aid, despite the fact that he is in the middle of his first court case as a lawyer.

Darsie had no idea who his parents were but it turns out that the Border laird Redgauntlet himself is related to Darsie and Redgauntlet has been busy trying to gather together some people that he thinks might be interested in taking part in another Jacobite rebellion. He tells Darsie exactly who he is, and that his father had been executed for his involvement in the 1745 rebellion. Darsie isn’t interested in joining the cause, not even when he knows that Charles Edward Stewart is there. There’s a bit of romance in there as you would expect, and a man dressed up as a woman to avoid detection, a standard Jacobite rouse!

My favourite Scott novel is still The Pirate.

Penny Lane, Liverpool, and more

I still have lots of Norway photos to share with you, but I thought I would relive our recent visit to Liverpool, we were staying with our good friends Martin and Sue in the north of England and they had arranged a Beatles open top bus tour. Close to the bus stop there are statues of The Beatles, they’re larger than lifesize, about seven and a half feet tall I believe. This actually looks better in the photo than it does in real life I think. My favourite – George, second from the left is particularly anonymous looking.

Four Liverpool Lads

Penny Lane sign

The first stop was Penny Lane. I don’t know what I had expected but I didn’t expect a quiet leafy road. Obviously the original road sign was nicked years ago, and I suspect they still are stolen because this one is just a modern plastic thing.

Penny Lane

Most of us piled out of the bus to take some photos anyway. Apart from being given Beatles information from the tour guide Damien, he was also quite handy with a guitar, so we had a sing-a-long too. There is still a barber there and a bank.

The other end of Penny Lane is residential although some of the buildings have been turned into workplaces. A few computer bound upper office workers are happy to wave back at you, maybe it brightens up their day to have a tour bus pass them every now and again.

Penny Lane

Strawberry Fields Forever – but not THE gate apparently. Yoko Ono took the original after John Lennon was murdered. I believe she put them somehere in the US. These replica gates were made, but I don’t think they should have allowed her to remove the originals. Strawberry Fields was of course the name of a Salvation Army children’s home and it had a lot of ground around it, the local kids used to play in there, it was their bit of paradise. It seems that fans have come from all over the world to scrawl messages on the gatepost.

Strawberry Fields

Meanwhile back; onto the bus and the street in the photo below is where Paul McCartney grew up. Apparently he still goes back there now and again, to show people where he grew up.

McCartney's Road

Then on to Aunt Mimi’s house below. This is where John Lennon grew up, staying with his Aunt Mimi when his parents lost custody of him, both being deemed unfit parents. He was lucky to have his aunt and uncle who stepped in to bring him up here. The people who own this house now must be really fed up with constant tour bus stops, they have the bedroom window curtains drawn and I don’t blame them.

Aunt Mimi's house

You can see the front porch has been fairly recently refurbished, but that is where John Lennon and Paul McCartney used to practice their guitar playing when they were kids. I think it was supposed to be less annoying for the neighbours if they were out there.

Aunt Mimi's house

If you are a Beatles fan then the trip is well worthwhile – even worth getting soaked as happened to us up the back of the open-topped bus.

I was a bit too young for the Beatles in their heyday but my sister was a teenager then so I grew up with their music. She was a fan and had George Harrison framed on her dressing table.

Meanwhile back to Penny Lane.