Penrith, Cumbria, England

Last month we made a quick visit to Penrith in Cumbria, the North of England. We were on our way to Oswestry. Despite the fact that we’ve spent years going up and down between Scotland and England for some reason we had never got around to stopping off at this popular market town which is situated close to the Lake District. Actually we ticked two destinations off that day because we also visited Tebay services, a place that I had heard people raving about as the best motorway services in the UK – and they could be right. I was tempted by quite a few things but ended up just buying some lovely things to eat.

Old Style  shop

I’m so glad that the owners of this shop haven’t felt the need to modernise. Drapers, Costumiers and Milliners. Perfect.

Old Style  shop front

Anyway – Penrith is an old-fashioned place, we only gave ourselves an hour to see the sights which wasn’t really long enough, especially as we found a good secondhand bookshop there. We only found the bookshop because we were looking at the old church which is close to the centre of the town. You can see lots of images of St Andrew’s Church here.

Giant's Tombstone

But I was interested in the ‘Giants Grave‘ in the churchyard. It’s supposedly the grave of Owen Caesarius, king of Cumbria between 900 and 937 AD. The hogback stones seem to have been used over large parts of Britain, it’s thought they are Viking grave markers. I’m sure there are some in Fife.

Giant's Grave Stones

Giant's Tombstone

Penrith also has Roman remains nearby, but we didn’t have time to stop off to visit them – another time we will I hope.

On the way out of the churchyard I was amazed to see this old gravestone which is situated very close to the entrance. Mary Noble apparently reached the ripe old age of 107 and died way back in 1828 (I think). It’s amazing to think she was born in 1721, she must have seen quite a few changes over the years.

Aged 107

The Traveller Returns by Patricia Wentworth

The Traveller Returns cover

The Traveller Returns by Patricia Wentworth is a Miss Silver mystery and it was first published in 1948. As has often been said by many people – you can’t beat a vintage crime read when you’re in need of a respite from your own world. Not that there’s anything desperately wrong here at Pining but I’m just so fed up with the weather and this never ending winter. Snow again – and although that isn’t unusual at Easter in Scotland, it is unusual when we’ve had so much snow on and off since October.

Anyway, back to the book. The Traveller Returns cheered me up despite the weather. The setting is Britain in wartime. Philip Jocelyn’s wife Anne had died in the dark on a beach in Brittany while trying to escape Nazi France early in the war. Three years have passed since then and Philip has fallen in love with Lyndall who had been one of Anne’s bridesmaids.

But Anne turns up back in England and walks into her home – mink coat, pearls and all, she says that it was her cousin Annie Joyce who had died on the beach. Annie and Anne did look remarkably alike apparently but Philip isn’t convinced although everyone else is. He’s sure it was his wife Anne that he had had to bury quickly.

Enter Miss Silver, retired governess and now successful private detective, although you wouldn’t know that from her shabby appearance. All is well as she gets to the bottom of it all, whilst knitting up stockings and socks for Ethel’s husband and three little boys. A very enjoyable read.

Freckles by Gene Stratton-Porter

Freckles

Freckles by Gene Stratton-Porter was first published in 1915. I knew that bloggers that I read had enjoyed this book so when I saw it in a second-hand bookshop for all of £1 I snapped it up. I might have bought it anyway whatever it was because the book is lovely with really stylish endpapers.

Freckles is a young boy who has had a very rough deal in life, he has been brought up in a ‘Home’ as he is an orphan, has no idea who his parents were and has suffered from emotional neglect, and he only has one hand. He also has red hair.

It’s a bit of a fairy tale really because after a lot of grief things do work out for Freckles. Despite his rough upbringing he’s a solid, dependable and honest lad who is enthralled by the wonderful wildlife that inhabits the Limberlost swamplands of Indiana.

This book is the first in a series set in the Limberlost area and some of the books have been made into films.

Gene Stratton-Porter was a woman who was several generations ahead of her time. The natural environment was obviously dear to her heart. She lived in the Limberlost area of Indiana and at the beginning of the 20th century it was being drained and logged with the consequent loss of the wildlife that had inhabited it. I believe the land was wanted for farming as that would have made money, it sounds like it was a similar situation to what has been happening in the tropical rainforests more recently.

From what I can gather though there have been some recent attempts to reverse the damage and return the land to swampland again. I certainly hope so.

Here’s what those endpapers look like.
Freckles endpapers

Listening Valley by D.E. Stevenson

Listening Valley

Just a couple of weeks ago I managed to buy an old copy of Listening Valley by D.E. Stevenson in Edinburgh, sadly it doesn’t have it’s dust jacket though. I can’t say I’m all that keen on the cover of the paperback above, but I suppose it’s better than nothing.

The book begins with the Edinburgh childhood of Louise and Antonia Melville. On the surface they have a very comfortable upbringing, it would seem that money was no problem. But in truth they’re really emotionally neglected children, brought up by the nannie. They both have the same problem – they weren’t born a boy and both parents wanted a boy, particularly their father as his family home was a castle and he wanted to pass it on to a son. In disappointment he ended up selling the castle. Their mother was a bridge fiend and playing bridge seemed to take up all of her time. She was disappointed because she thought of her girls as being very dull compared with other children she met, but as she never took the time to get to know her daughters she had no idea of their real personalities at all.

Inevitably both girls marry young, Tonia marries a man even older than her father is but he’s kind and wealthy and gives her some badly needed confidence, in wartime they move to London and experience the Blitz.

Eventually the action moves back to Scotland where Tonia settles close to what had been her father’s country estate. But the war is still very much in evidence with an airfield very close by. Tonia’s home becomes a meeting place for young airmen who never knew when their number would be up.

I thoroughly enjoyed this one, it has some truly ghastly characters in the shape of sponging relatives, I have a feeling that they crop up from time to time in Stevenson’s books, she must have been bothered by some I think! I bet they never read her books though.

Dunkeld in Perthshire

It was a sparkling afternoon in October I think when we visted Dunkeld again, just for a walk around the place. Perthshire is well known for having lovely trees.

sheep

Walking around the edge of the cathedral brought us to these sheep that are in the normal sheep stance – head down and chomping away.

Dunkeld sheep

The banks of the River Tay are very close to the remains of the cathedral, so the grass there is manicured compared to the rest of the riverside. It’s a nice place to sit and is just a hop and a skip from the wee town.

River Tay at Dunkeld

The Tay is really a thing of beauty, swift, clean and somehow honest looking, certainly when I compare it with my recent visit to the River Severn. Don’t fall in though! One of our ‘boys’ once kicked our football into it when he was a youngster, I think he thought we would be able to get it back – no chance.

River Tay

Sometimes they have the salmon season opening ceremony at Dunkeld, they pour some whisky into a quaich which is a two handled Scottish drinking vessel and throw it into the river as a blessing. Nowadays if you catch a salmon you have to put it back in the river, after taking photos of it of course. Conservation is important.

One year I remember they had to crack the ice to get a boat onto the river, but I can’t find any videos of that freezing year. I did find one of the 2018 ceremony at Kenmore though, another wee place I’m fond of and I’ve added it to an old Kenmore blogpost of mine. So if you enjoy listening to a pipeband and you’re interested in seeing a River Tay fishing season opening ceremony have a look here.

Uncle Samson by Beverley Nichols

Uncle Samson cover

Uncle Samson by Beverley Nichols was published in 1950 and I don’t think it has been reprinted since then, I don’t suppose it ever will be now, so I feel quite lucky that I stumbled across this one in a secondhand bookshop in Moffat. I had to add the book onto Goodreads as it didn’t appear on their lists. The book is the author’s thoughts on life and society in the USA in various parts of the country. I doubt if it was ever published in the US as although he praises the country and particularly the people for some things, there are plenty of things that he criticises.

In 1950 the recent independence of India was obviously still big news in the US and Nichols got tired of people jumping down his throat about the British Empire. After being lambasted for the British treatment of Indians he finally turned round and said – well at least we didn’t kill them all as you did with your Indians.

He says: America is a country where religious hysteria gushes through the fabric of the body politic with the force of a geyser.

One day Nichols was given a ticket for a New Year’s football match at the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. He was puzzled by the ticket as it said on it: IMPORTANT This ticket is issued for use by a member of the Caucasian race only. It was followed by various dire threats about what would happen if it fell into the hands of a non-Caucasian.

What did it mean? Would he be allowed to use the ticket? He wasn’t Russian. Eventually he discovered it meant that black people couldn’t use the ticket. Bizarre. But of course in the 1950s the US was still a very segregated country and that upset him a lot. It was a subject he returned to again and again. He mentioned that the US was pouring money into the UK when they could have been spending it on housing as black people living just half a mile from the White House were living in shacks made out of flattened cans. He didn’t seem to realise that the money we were getting in the UK was loans which were obviously business transactions and indeed it was only a few years ago that those loans were paid back in full, with interest of course. That’s why the money wasn’t spent on making black neighbourhoods habitable. Sitting towards the back of a bus caused consternation. There’s room at the front said the conductor. But Nichols was happy sitting where he was, when he offered a young black man a light for his cigarette the poor chap started to tremble. Nichols was inadvertently getting him into trouble.

On a brighter note Nichols visited Walt Disney Studios and Walt showed him around personally. Nichols was very impressed with him, particularly that he queued up with everyone else at the canteen, and that everyone called him Walt.

There’s a chapter on American comics and comic strips. That was when I learned that there was a very popular comic strip called Blondie, I always thought that the band Blondie got there name from Debbie Harry’s hair colour – but maybe not.

It was the beginning of Alcoholics Anonymous and Nichols was very impressed with that when he had it explained to him.

Meeting Charlie Chaplin was sad as Chaplin was being persecuted. In fact Hollywood had turned against Chaplin completely, seeing him as a communist. It’s like living under the Gestapo he said. Eventually he had to go to Switzerland to live I believe.

Beverley Nichols had travelled frequently to the US over the previous 20 years and had visited 47 of the then 48 states, so he knew his subject well. I found this to be a really entertaining and interesting read, despite it being written almost 70 years ago.

Seven Dead by J. Jefferson Farjeon

seven dead

Seven Dead by J. Jefferson Farjeon was first published in 1939 but I read a British Library Crime Classics reprint with a rather attractive cover of a harbour and yachts.

The book begins with Ted Lyte a nervous first time burglar breaking into a remote house by the coast. It seems that the house is uninhabited so he decides to take a look around, hoping to find easily portable silver.

One of the rooms is locked, presumably it has something worth stealing inside it, but when he gains entrance he gets the shock of his life. In a panic Ted rushes out of the house but realises that someone is chasing after him. Shedding silver spoons as he goes Ted runs straight into a policeman and ends up being taken to the local police station, he’s a jibbering wreck.

Thomas Hazeldean was the pursuer and he had just come off his yacht, but it’s not long before he’s on it again and sailing for Boulogne where he hopes to get to the bottom of the mystery.

I had some problems with this one because although it’s not long at all before the crime takes place the whole thing seemed a bit too disjointed to me and unlikely. Farjeon tried to introduce witty dialogue between the police but it really didn’t work. It’s a bit of a locked room mystery, a bit missing person, a bit of vengeance, a bit of romance. In fact it’s just a bit too bitty for my liking. I could just be nit-picking though.

Tamburlaine Must Die by Louise Welsh

 Tamburlaine Must Die cover

Tamburlaine Must Die by Louise Welsh was published in 2004 and at 149 pages it’s a very quick read, and unusually for the author it’s historical fiction.

The setting is London 1593, it has been a bad year with the plague ravaging the inhabitants and threats of war abroad. The playwright Christopher Marlowe has been taken to London from his patron’s country house, under arrest. He has no idea what has caused this change in his luck, but he has been hauled in front of the Privy Council before and survived, he hopes to wriggle out of danger again.

Marlowe had a great success in the past with his play Tamburlaine and it turns out that someone has been pasting blasphemous and atheistic posters all around the city signed Tambourlaine. Marlowe is being blamed for them and the penalty is death, but the Privy Council really want Marlowe to dig up evidence against Sir Walter Raleigh as they’re keen to get rid of him, and they give Marlowe three days of freedom to come up with the goods.

Marlowe knows that someone had given the Privy Council some of his private papers in an effort to incriminate him, and he spends his time trying to track down his betrayer.

I really enjoyed this one. I didn’t know anything at all about Christopher Marlowe beyond that he was a playwright, a contemporary of Shakespeare, a homosexual and of course he famously got murdered in an argument over a tavern bill. It seems to me though that Welsh has written an entertaining and plausible tale around him. Inevitably there’s some homosexual sex involved in this book, if you’re squeamish about that then this book might not be for you.

The Romanovs: The Final Chapter by Robert K. Massie

The Romanovs: The Final Chapter cover

I’ve always been interested in Russian history and years ago I read Nicholas and Alexandra by Robert K.Massie, so when I saw The Romanovs: The Final Chapter by the same author I had to buy it. This book was first published in 1995 which I’m always shocked to realise is over 20 years ago, so some things have moved on a lot from the end of the book.

I have to say that I was a bit disappointed by this book, that’s partly because I remember how much I enjoyed his previous book on the subject. The beginning of this one was interesting as was the end but oh dearie me – the middle section dragged on and on in an exceedingly tedious manner. It was the early days of DNA testing – a new branch of science. When bone remains were discovered and thought to belong to the Russian Imperial family it was hoped that DNA could be extracted from them but that was no easy matter as there were arguments about who could give permission for the tests to go ahead. Another problem was that some so called experts weren’t able to admit that they didn’t have the expertise required and ultimately never did come up with any results. In the end it was Prince Philip who gave blood for comparison with the bone DNA as his mother Princess Alice was Alexandra’s sister and a British laboratory did discover that the bones were those of most of the family, but Anastasia and Alexei’s bones were missing.

As there had always been rumours that Anastasia had survived the massacre in the cellar of the Ipatiev House in Ekaterinburg this obviously set the tabloid types agog. So began a section involving all the stories of imposters who had appeared from time to time since the 1920s, claiming to be Romanovs. Anna Anderson is I’m sure the best known of those demented/fraudulent people and it’s amazing to think that for almost 60 years she duped a lot of people who really should have known better. I suppose some people just longed for there to be a survivor and disregarded the evidence. One Polish man (it turns out that ‘Anna Anderson’ was Polish too) claimed to be Alexei despite being 18 years too young, born actually in 1922 and crucially NOT a haemophiliac!

It wasn’t only the immediate members of the royal family that were murdered, the Bolsheviks had made a fairly good job of eliminating a lot of the extended family. But several different branches of Romanovs did manage to escape murder, mainly those who had already been banished from Russia by the Tsar or had been sent to very remote parts of the country and so had been able to make their way to other bordering countries and safety. The prince who murdered Rasputin had been banished for his deed and that ended up saving his life!

Those surviving Romanovs seem to have spent their lives squabbling with each other over exactly who is the head of the family and deemed to be the new Tsar. Which says it all about the Romanovs really. With the ‘glasnost’ of the 1980s some of them seem to have been very hopeful of being invited back to Russia to take up the throne again. Crazy.

Money and power are two things that often cause mayhem, and the belief that Nicholas had sent millions of pounds to banks in Europe before World War 1 meant that the survivors all wanted to get their hands on it. Well most of them, but a few have lived quiet and useful lives, changed their names and told nobody about their family links with royalty.

It seems that many of the Romanovs despised England for not granting the royal family permission to settle in England and I know that for years I blamed King George V and Queen Mary, but if I’m recalling correctly it was just last year when the private papers were released, and it turned out that it was the British Prime Minister who refused to give permission – and that of course shows the big difference between the Russian Royals and the British ones who really have no power. If Nicholas had been willing to go down the same route then things would have been very different.

The last part of book deals with the Ipatiev House, it had been demolished in 1977 so that it wouldn’t be a focus for Romanov supporters. The authorities in Ekaterinburg hoped to build a church on the site and bury the royal remains in it. But other parts of Russia hoped to get their hands on the bones. With Russia beginning to open up to the world, tourism was in their minds. Nothing had been decided by the end of the book but of course since then a church has indeed been built there and the remains have been buried at the altar which is situated where the cellar was. The victims have all been made saints and the church is called Church on the Blood.

A New Era – Modern Art Two – Edinburgh

We’ve been to the New Era exhibition at the Modern 2 Gallery in Edinburgh and I’ve blogged about our first visit here. This time I’m showing one of the sculptures. Below is a model of a brass head by J.D. Fergusson who is better known for his paintings. It’s called Eastre (Hymn to the Sun) and was created in 1924. It’s very much of its time I think, it looks very futuristic and reminds me of Princess Leia. You can read more about it here.

brass head

Below is The Hunt by Robert Burns, created around 1926. When I first saw this one I really didn’t like it, it seemed too gaudy, the gold paint really stands out, you can read about it here. This one originally decorated a wall in an Edinburgh tearoom in Princes Street. The artist was commissioned to design everything in the tearoom, including the cake stands.
the hunt This one really grew on me and the amount of detail in the painting is wonderful. Very un-Edinburgh especially for the 1920s, evidently it was a far more exciting place than I had imagined.

Finally, The Sensation of Crossing the Street by Stanley Cursiter.

the sensation of crossing the street