East of the Sun and West of the Moon illustrated by Kay Nielsen

East of the Sun and West of the Moon cover

It must be quite a few years since I bought my copy of East of the Sun and West of the Moon – Old Tales from the North – illustrated by Kay Nielsen, but I’ve only just got around to actually reading the six fairy tales within it although I’ve often admired the illustrations. You can get the ebook free from Project Gutenberg here. These folk legends were collected by Asbjornsen and Moe in the 19th century.

Like most fairy tales they feature princesses, kings, godmothers, talking animals and quests, but as these tales are from Norway they also all feature trolls which are obviously a big thing in Scandinavian society which explains the presence of troll related ornaments all over tourist gift shops there. I really enjoyed the tales, but not quite as much as the artwork.

The artist Kay Nielsen was a stage designer, illustrator, painter of murals, a theatre art director and he was influenced by the British artist Aubrey Beardsley. In the 1930s he moved from Denmark to the USA where he worked for Walt Disney but it wasn’t a happy time for him and his wife and they ended up moving back to Denmark. He seems to have been a kind and gentle man, well-loved by his friends but was somehow tinged with Scandinavian melancholy.

If you want to see some of his beautiful work have a look here.

Duke of Wellington in Glasgow

Wellington

As you can see the famous statue of the Duke of Wellington on his horse Copenhagen in Glasgow is today sporting an updated version of his more usual traffic cone hat. It’s a very sad day here in Scotland as we leave the European Union, hopefully it won’t be for long.

Classics Club Spin #22 – The Rider of the White Horse by Rosemary Sutcliff

The Rider of the White Horse cover

The Rider of the White Horse by Rosemary Sutcliff is the book that I got in the Classics Club Spin #22. It was first published in 1959. I’ve read and enjoyed quite a lot of books by this author so I was happy to be reading this one. However for some reason it just didn’t hit the spot.

The setting is the North of England during the English Civil War – or more correctly as it is called nowadays, The War of the Three Nations. The writing is good as you would expect but for some reason the whole thing just dragged, although there are only 320 pages, albeit of fairly small print.

Anne and Sir Thomas Fairfax are prominent members of their community and their marriage had been an arranged one. They’re on Parliament’s side in the Civil War. Sir Thomas becomes legendary within the Parliamentary Army as The Rider of the White Horse and is beloved by his men and Anne follows him around to various northern England towns as he takes part in battles with the Roundheads/Royalists.

Anne had been very unsure of her husband’s feelings for her, but she’s devoted to him and her determination to stay near him with their small daughters culminates in her briefly being taken as a prisoner of war. She eventually realises that Thomas is just an undemonstrative husband.

As you would expect Oliver Cromwell rears his ugly head in this book.

For me the most enjoyable part was remembering all the locations that were mentioned that we had visited. When we were walking about in places like Selby and Wetherby I don’t think I realised that I was exactly where people had been fighting in battles – as they were right outside Selby Abbey.

Otherwise this book really dragged for me.

Aberdeen book purchases – part 2

Yet More Books

The second bookshop in Aberdeen that we visited is a charity one right in the Merkat Square and as the books are all donated they sell them very cheaply. I bought:

1. The Century’s Daughter by Pat Barker
2. The Rendezvous by Daphne du Maurier
3. The World My Wilderness by Rose Macaulay
4. Beautiful Just! by Lillian Beckwith
5. Green Hand by Lillian Beckwith
6. Bruach Blend by Lillian Beckwith
7. The Spuddy by Lillian Beckwith
8. The Road Home by Rose Tremain
9. A Pack of Lies by Geraldine McCaughrean
10. Young Bess by Margaret Irwin
11. The Cockle Ebb by Isabel Cameron
12. The Herries Chronicle by Hugh Walpole This is an omnibus consisting of four books which are set in the Lake District/Cumbria area, and first published in 1939 although mine is a 1955 reprint.
Rogue Herries
Judith Paris
The Fortress
Vanessa

Visiting St Andrews just after Christmas I bought a lovely edition of Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift, illustrated by Arthur Rackham. You can see some of the illustrations here. – also from St Andrews – Young Bess by Margaret Irwin, and the postman brought me –
In a Dark Wood Wandering by Hella S. Haasse.

That lot should keep me going for a while. Have you read any of them?

A Rope – In Case by Lillian Beckwith

A Rope - In Case cover

A Rope In Case by Lillian Beckwith was first published in 1968. The setting is Bruach, a village in the Scottish Hebrides. The author who was an English woman who moved to the Hebrides and then started writing about the community and many of her neighbours which is always a bit dangerous. ‘Miss Peckwitt’ – as the locals called her – was told. ‘Always carry a rope – in case’. And whether it was for repairing a fence, tying up a boat or securing the roof of the local taxi, there was no denying the wisdom of it. And Miss Peckwitt soon discovers that her rope is indeed an invaluable piece of kit.

Bruach was a welcoming village and in this book there’s a new villager called Miss Parry, she’s another English woman who has taken over the house of the two spinsters nicknamed ‘the pilgrims’. Miss Parry is a keen knitter and enthusiastically begins to knit clothes for the villagers, but she doesn’t use patterns and the results are always unwearable, but that doesn’t put her off. The socks she knits are just long tubes with no heels in them, none of them match and she claims that as they are for the orphans they don’t need heels. Miss Peckwitt makes the mistake of complaining about her lack of a decent bra and the difficulty of buying one from a catalogue so Miss Parry arrives with half a dozen home made bras, made from an assortment of unsuitable materials such as tartan and Harris tweed – I can feel the itch just writing about them!

This book, like her previous three is an amusing glimpse back to a way of life that doesn’t exist now, life and death as it was in a Hebridean village in the 1960s. With plenty of quirky inhabitants, there’s never a dull moment.

Lillian Beckwith wrote seven books with Hebridean settings, but she ended up moving back to England when some of her neighbours took umbrage at being used so blatantly as copy for her books. There’s no denying though that they’re good if you’re in need of a laugh and this week I’m definitely in need of a laugh!

Death of a Gossip by M.C. Beaton

Death of a Gossip cover

I decided to read Death of a Gossip by M.C. Beaton, in memory of the author who died a few weeks ago, it’s the first book in her Hamish Macbeth series, published in 1995.

This is quite similar to her Agatha Raisin books, but this time the murder mystery has to be solved by Hamish Macbeth who is the local Highland police constable, a bit of a lazy bones on the surface, but with the help of his many cousins who seem to live all over the world, he manages to find the culprit. I suspect that this will be a feature of all of the books. The setting is the Scottish Highlands.

The book begins with John and Heather Cartwright preparing for the arrival of their guests. They own The Lochdubh School of Casting: Salmon and Trout Fishing and are expecting a very mixed bunch of students – a 12 year old boy, a retired army major, an American couple, a London barrister, a London secretary, a debutante type and a society widow.

Very quickly the character of Hamish Macbeth is portrayed as being very lazy and a bit of a scrounger, especially where coffee and food is concerned and he seems to be a bit lacking in brain power. Of course he’s just a typical Highlander and as it turns out has plenty of native wit.

Lady Jane Winters – the society widow of a Labour peer seems determined to upset all of the other students, she’s rude and aggressive and seems to know more about them all than she should. In no time she has just about everyone wanting to kill her – or hoping that someone else does. So when she turns up dead in a loch there’s no lack of suspects.

This was quite an enjoyable very light read, but I don’t know if I’ll continue with the series although the books are the sort that are ideal reading when you don’t feel able to concentrate on anything too taxing.

There were a couple of things in it that annoyed me. The Americanism ‘collect call’ was used when of course it should have been the British ‘reverse charges’. Also Lady Jane Winters, who insists on being called Lady Jane should have been named Lady Winters as she had got her title from her husband’s peerage and hadn’t been born a Lady Jane – such as Lady Diana was. I feel sure that a Scottish woman of M.C. Beaton’s vintage would have known this although many people nowadays don’t seem to understand the difference.

Dunnottar Castle – part 3

After looking all around Dunnottar Castle we decided to walk along the coastal path to the First World War memorial that we could see in the distance.

Dunnottar Castle view

We had no idea how far away the memorial was and I had a horrible feeling it might be as much as five miles but it only took us about 20 minutes to reach it, it’s very deceptive. We found out it’s a Second World War memorial too.

War Memorial from Dunnottar Castle Castle

It’s a lovely coastal walk and the cliffs look like something out of a British Rail travel poster.

Cliff View  from Dunnottar path

Dunnottar Castle, cliffs, Aberdeenshire

It was a blustery day and the sea was quite wild in places, what a great way to blow any cobwebs way, if you still have any by then!

Dunnottar  Castle rocks

Here’s a short video showing some of the rocks and nearby headland.

sea from castle

Dunnottar Castle – part 2

Back to Dunnottar Castle and after what seemed like a fairly long walk there which wasn’t really long, just a bit uneven underfoot we reached the castle itself.
It looks impregnable but William Wallace captured this castle in 1297. Click here to read more about its history.

Dunnottar Castle  entrance

I was fairly puffed out by this stage!

Dunnottar Castle from path

As you can see it was a lovely sparkling blue sky day.

Dunnottar Castle , Aberdeenshire, Scotland

Mots of the windows have window seats, it must have been lovely to sit there with embroidered cushions on them, admiring the view, reading or doing yet more embroidery.

Dunnottar Castle Window

Dunnottar Castle  windowseat

There’s only one room in the castle which has been restored so you can see what it would have looked like.

Dunnottar Castle  restored ceiling 1

Getting out of the wind gives you a very good idea of how cosy the castle could have been in its day, epscially with the addition of tapestries on the walls and maybe curtains and carpets, or at least rushes on the floors.

Dunnottar Castle chair + Fireplace

But most of the castle is in ruins, it’s almost more interesting to be able to see how it was built though, seeing the skeleton of the castle rather than its skin I suppose.

Dunnottar Castle interior

Tomorrow I’ll show you the scenery surrounding the castle.

Dunnottar Castle

The Mousewife by Rumer Godden

The Mousewife cover

The Mousewife by Rumer Godden was one of the books I got for Christmas, it was first published in 1951 but my copy was published in 1958. It’s such a cute wee book with just 39 pages and lots of illustrations which are by William Pene du Bois. This is ostensibly a book for children but in reality it will probably be appreciated more by adults, or maybe I should say by women.

A mouse couple live in an old house belonging to a spinster. They’re house mice and never venture beyond the walls, they think that the house is the whole world, but when the mousewife catches sight of the garden and woodland through a window she’s entranced by what she can see. The seasons come and go and she sees all the flowers and then the snow, but all her husband thinks about is cheese.

She’s a good mousewife, taking care of her husband when he over-indulges on currants and wrapping him up with tufts of carpet wool behind the fender. By this time she has a family to look after too and she’s the breadwinner so to speak and she has no time for thinking. But a boy brings the spinster homeowner a dove in a cage and the dove is pining for the great outdoors, it has lost the will to live, the peas which the dove is given for food are just what the mousewife needs to feed her growing brood and she makes friends with the dove.

This is a lovely tale with the dove and the mouse helping each other. The dove tells the mousewife about the hills, corn, stars and clouds.

It has been given to few mice to see the stars: so rare is it that the mousewife had not even heard of them, and when she saw them shining she thought at first they must be new brass buttons. Then she saw they were very far off, farther than the garden or the wood, beyond the farthest trees. “But not too far for me to see,” she said. She knew now that they were not buttons but something far and big and strange. “But not so strange to me,” she said, “for I have seen them, and I have seen them for myself,” said the mousewife.

Ladies or mousewives – please beware of neglecting your husband, as if you don’t give them your full attention, they might just bite your ear! You can see some of the illustrations here.

1917 – the film

It’s just typical that there are no films out that I want to go and see at the flicks for a year or so – then two come along at the same time! The same thing happened last year with Mary Queen of Scots and The Favourite.

This year it’s 1917 and Little Women, so I’ve seen two films in two days, 1917 was the first, it’s a subject that I’m well acquainted with although I’m more interested in the social aspects of it and how it all affected society, not so much on all the strategy involved.

The film is directed in a way that makes you feel almost as if you are actually there, jogging along the length of a busy trench, it’s all very realistic. The mud, blood and decaying bodies. The rats, rats and yet more rats. The crazy expectations of those giving out the orders, the ordinary Tommy’s determination to obey and save the day. Well, they had no option I suppose as one way or another they were going to get shot at.

The differences between the British and German trenches are stark, with the German ones being made from concrete and bags of solid cement. I was quite disappointed that no makers mark could be seen on them as it should have been Blue Circle cement who dodged an embargo, according to WWI British soldiers of the time. Yes, the German trenches were solidly built, not the mud and wooden slat constructions of the British trenches.

Two lance corporals have to take orders to Colonel MacKenzie which tell him to stop an impending attack, as it’s a trap, but they have to travel through German territory to reach the Colonel. It’s not an easy journey!

The film has a great cast, although Benedict Cumberbatch and Colin Firth have very little screen time, but the rest of the acting talent is just as good. This isn’t exactly uplifting viewing but I’d watch it again, given the chance.

The director Sam Mendes based the film on stories he heard from his grandfather and decicated the film to his memory.