Boxing Day and TV

I don’t know about you, but I was so glad to have a lovely lazy day at home today – just eating leftovers and watching TV. I was quite disappointed that the Agatha Christie this year is an updated ABC Murders. John Malkovich as Poirot is very different from David Suchet’s version, very much rougher, but I did enjoy seeing the wonderful De La Warr Pavillion in Bexhill again, always a joy – especially in reality but I haven’t been to Bexhill for years. The ABC Murders is set in 1933 and the De La Warr didn’t exist then as it wasn’t built until 1935. Just a bit of nit-picking on my part!

The contrast between the immaculate art deco building and the sleazy poorer quarters featured is stark. You can almost smell the damp. Whoever has the job of designing such settings triumphed – peeling wallpaper and all. On the whole though I found this new version to be painfully slow, but I’ll no doubt be watching the second part tomorrow night.

Before the ABC Murders I enjoyed watching The Midnight Gang. I haven’t read any of David Walliams’ books but this TV adaptation was definitely worth watching, for kids of all ages.

I didn’t have any time for looking at anything on TV before today really and I see that on the 23rd I missed something called Agatha and the Truth of Murder. I’m wondering if it’s worth watching it on the iPlayer. Let me know what you thought of it if you watched it please.

I have to say that on Christmas Eve I chose to watch entirely the wrong thing. I’m not at all religious nowadays but I do love all the old familiar carols. Unfortunately I tuned in to the BBC service – big mistake as it came from Buckfast Abbey, there were no carols at all. Everything was chanted and a lot of it was in Latin! Sometimes it’s difficult to figure out whether things are RC or very high Church of England, but Buckfast must be RC, however I thought they had given up on the Latin in the 1960s so I don’t know what that was all about. Nothing resembling a good old carol was sung, in fact nothing was really sung – just chanted. I can’t imagine why the ‘high heid-yins’ in the BBC would think that it would be appreciated by many viewers. Yes the setting of the abbey is very grand, the costumes (chasubles and such) worn are sumptuous. But it missed the festive mark by miles. Clearly I should have been on ITV but I gave up and went to bed.

Have I missed anything worth watching?

Winter Solstice

Today was/is of course the Winter Solstice – should that have capitals? I’m not sure, but I feel it should as for me it’s one of the most important days of the year. The thought of the days getting longer and the nights lighter doesn’t half cheer me up.

I am busy with Christmas stuff – like most people at the moment, or should I say most women however, spare a thought for me as I’m also busy with a certain husband’s birthday meal on Christmas Eve. In an ideal world there would be a law against that!

Drum Castle Gardens, Aberdeenshire

From the photo below it looks to me like the box hedges and topiary in the rose garden had very recently been trimmed when we visited Drum Castle in late October.
Drum Castle, historic rose garden 1
I just love a garden that’s well protected by high stone walls, the perfect setting for the vibrant red Virginia Creeper, just the thing to cheer up the darker days of autumn.
Drum Castle historic rose garden
As you can see there were still a few wee roses blooming, but this place must look stunning in high summer.
Drum Castle historic rose garden 4
As you can see from the photo below – the sun got in the way a bit, but I thought you might like to see the wooden pyramid-like frames that have been constucted.

Drum Castle historic rose garden 3
I like the wicker edging that stops the plants from flopping over. In the foreground is Sedum spectabile, just about the best autumn/late summer colour we can get in gardens here I think, and beloved by bees and butterflies.
Drum Castle historic rose garden 8

Drum Castle historic rose garden 7

Drum Castle historic rose garden 9
Below is a photo of a bothy (shelter) which had a table in it with bags of apples in it – and an honesty box. No doubt at other times of the year you can purchase veggies too. This ‘bothy’ looks to me like it must have been a place for storing small carts and garden implements in its day.
Drum Castle historic rose garden 12 bothy

Although this garden is historic, it isn’t preserved in aspic and new things have been added to it over the years. as should happen with a garden. Gardens are never finished, they’re constantly evolving.
Drum Castle historic rose garden 12

One of the newer additions is the human sundial below, if you stand on a particular spot you should be able to tell the time from your own shadow.
Drum Castle historic rose garden 13 human sundial 1

I think the ‘spooks’ at the top of the design below are more than a wee bit influenced by Margaret MacDonald’s designs. C.R. Mackintosh’s wife.
Drum Castle historic rose garden 14 human sundial 2

While we were there the pond area was having work done on it so we weren’t able to walk all around it, but that didn’t worry me as the colour of the maples/acers were brilliant and more than made up for it.
Drum Castle pond garden

Obviously we didn’t see the gardens at their best as it was late October when we visited but if you’re interested you can see more images of them here.

The Chalk Pit by Elly Griffiths

The Chalk Pit cover

The Chalk Pit by Elly Griffiths is a Dr Ruth Galloway mystery. I’m so pleased that I’ve almost caught up with this series which I’m reading in order – a necessity I think.

As usual with a Ruth Galloway book it isn’t long before she is digging up some bones and meeting up with Nelson to discuss whether the bones are really old and so not something he has to get involved in, or are much more recent meaning he has a murder to investigate. It looks to Ruth as if the bones have been boiled as they’re white and very shiny. They’ll have to go off for carbon-14 analysis.

Meanwhile some people disappear and a few homeless people are murdered. There’s always been a rumour that underneath Norwich there are miles and miles of secret tunnels, chalk mines from another age, could the missing people be there?

As ever Ruth’s personal life is as interesting as the crime/mystery aspect of these books. Towards the end of this one – and just as I had decided that she was going to be more sensible in her old age – she surprised me and it looks like everyone’s life is going to get a lot more complicated.

I’ve already borrowed the next one in this series from the library so I don’t have long to wait to find out what happens next. Honestly I think I’m more interested in the personal lives of the main characters than the mystery and crimes involved.

Drum Castle, Aberdeenshire, Scotland

In October we had a short trip away in Aberdeenshire and one of the castles we visited was Drum Castle, we hadn’t been there before and again we were really lucky with the weather. Drum Castle is now owned by Scottish National Trust, it was built in the 1200s but in 1323 it was given to William de Irwyn by Robert the Bruce and for generations after that it has been the centre of Clan Irvine. The Irvines backed the Jacobites but they seem to have got over being on the losing side.

Drum Castle

As you can see this is another Scottish baronial style of castle with pepperpot turrets. The bottom part of the castle dates from 1200 but the top part was added in the 1300s. In places the walls are 70 feet thick so this was built for defence, not a pretty pretty castle, but to me it fulfils both briefs and manages to be attractive as well as utilitarian. It has been added to over the years – up until Victorian times.

Drum Castle
If you’re not good with heights hold on to something befoe looking at the next one – it’s a long way down! But look how pretty that wee round tower roof is at the bottom middle of the photo.

Drum Castle roof

I had to walk around the battlements of course, they’re very up and downy as you can see so it did feel a bit precarious – don’t trip! There are usually built in stone seats on battlements and I imagine that the ladies would have been up there during the summer with their sewing or a book, in peaceful times anyway.

Drum Castle  battlements
The view of the trees and surrounding landscape is worth the climb up there.

Drum Castle  view

Drum Castle roof

I’ll show you the gardens and some of the interior soon.

Drum Castle

Cellardyke Rainbow

We had a very busy Remembrance Sunday this year, attending the wreath laying ceremony at Markinch as Jack was laying a wreath there. Then in the afternoon we took part in the Silent Citizens Walk at Cellardyke, we have family connections there.

The walk goes past all of the houses that people whose names are on the war memorial lived in, and there’s a person standing outside the house representing them, and they too join in the procession, it’s actually very thought provoking and moving. As it’s a coastal and fishing community a lot of the men had been sailors or fishermen.

We set off in heavy rain, and were all glad to pack into the town hall for the next part of the service. It was a packed house. By the time we came out and started to walk along to the memorial it had brightened up and suddenly a lovely rainbow appeared. It seemed like some kind of sign.

Cellardyke Rainbow

Cellardyke Rainbow

From here the next land you reach is Denmark. In this photo there is also a strangely angled cloud/light shadow slanting down to the left.

Cellardyke Rainbow

Bedknob and Broomstick by Mary Norton

Bedknob and Broomstick cover

Until I picked this book up in an Aberdeenshire secondhand bookshop recently I had no idea that Bedknob and Broomstick had been written by Mary Norton (of The Borrowers fame). It was first published in 1945 and although I’ve only seen short excerpts of the Disney film Bedknobs and Broomsticks, I think it’s fair to say that it must be very loosely based on the book. It was obviously written in wartime although it doesn’t really come into the story, the three children Carey, Charles and Paul have been sent to live with an old aunt who lives in Bedfordshire. This must have been a normal experience for many children in those days as fathers were off in the services and their mothers were also doing war work. It fits the perfect children’s book scenario, get rid of those annoying parents.

The house is old and square with a large hall and the children are quite intimidated by it. They’re also rather shy of their aunt and the old housemaid, but the garden is wonderful and even has a river running through it. The children have a whale of a time, they’re well behaved and all their days are alike – until they meet Miss Price. She’s an elderly lady who gets about on her bicycle, she’s very ladylike and teaches piano for a living, but in her spare time she’s a bit of a white witch. She’s really just a beginner at it and when the children find her in pain lying on the ground in local woodland it transpires that she has sprained her ankle as she has fallen off her broomstick!

She obviously needs more practice. Miss Price needs the children to keep quiet about her witchcraft, the locals wouldn’t understand, so she puts a spell on Paul’s bedknob so that when he twists it the bed will wheech them all anywhere in the world – or even into the past.

This book is aimed at children over the age of eight – I think I fit that description!

Murder in the Snow by Gladys Mitchell

Murder in the Snow cover

Murder in the Snow by Gladys Mitchell was first published in 1950 and then it had the title of Groaning Spinney. My copy is a reprint by Vintage and its cover was illustrated by Laurence Whiteley. It’s very much in the British Library Crime Classics mould.

It’s almost Christmas and Mrs Bradley is in demand, she has an invitation to attend a conference of educational psychologists in Stockholm, it’s very tempting but she has also been invited to spend the festive season in the Cotswolds where Jonathan her nephew by marriage has invited her to stay in the manor house that he and his young wife have just bought.

The manor house has quite a lot of land attached to it and the locals believe that the area is haunted. It isn’t long before some of the locals receive anonymous letters. Mrs Bradley is just the person to get to the bottom of it. The atmosphere is enhanced by a fall of snow which seems to muffle sounds and add to the eeriness. It isn’t long before a body is discovered, hanging over what was known as the ghost gate. The doctor thinks it’s death by natural causes but others aren’t so sure.

The body count increases and of course Mrs Bradley sorts it all out. I still don’t like Mrs Bradley at all, for some reason Gladys Mitchell wrote her as being positively scary looking, reptilian with yellow skin and claw-like hands and her personality isn’t much better.

However I did like the mystery part of this book, for me anyway it wasn’t at all predictable.

The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place by Alan Bradley

The Grave's a Fine and Private Place cover

The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place by Alan Bradley was published earlier this year, but I have seen it reviewed by so many other bloggers that I had somehow convinced myself that I had already read it, it was only a couple of weeks ago that I realised I was wrong about that. Luckily I was able to get it quickly from the library, unluckily I also discovered a lot of other interesting books there that I just had to take home with me – when I should be concentrating on my own books.

Anyway, in the previous book in this Flavia de Luce series their father had died unexpectedly, I found it really sad and I know that that coloured all my feelings about the book. In this new one all three de Luce girls are dealing with the shock of losing their father and the uncertainty of their futures. If bossy Aunt Felicity gets her way there will be even more changes in their lives.

They’ve been persuaded to go away for a summer holiday and as the trusty Dogger is punting along the river, Flavia takes to trailing her hand along the water, of course in no time at all her fingers have hooked a corpse and so begins the mystery. When they get the body out onto the riverbank they can see that it’s a young man dressed in 18th century clothes, a ruffled silk shirt, silk trousers buttoned at the knee, was he at a fancy dress party? It turns out that he’s well known locally, Orlando has been a bit of a problem at times.

Flavia of course wastes no time in beginning her chemical investigations, all very detailed and I always ask my own resident organic Chemistry PhD guy about the chemistry involved, and it’s always correct.

I think I enjoyed this one more than most other readers. I liked that the relationship between Flavia and her sisters is maturing and becoming more understanding, as it should, and also that given when the story is set – the 1950s – when we still had the death penalty in the UK this book involved a miscarriage of justice, which is one of the reasons that hanging became so obnoxious to the general public. I think sometimes that people forget that several innocent people were hanged back in those more brutal times.

12th, December, edited to add – I noted several incongruous words in this book. Although Alan Bradley lives in the UK and his Flavia books are set mainly in the UK his Canadian origins show through several times in this book. Particularly on page 155 he writes that – On a raised platform, a tall thin man with a bare chest, but wearing suspenders, was swallowing a sword for an audience of two small boys who were fighting over a bag of apples.

That word suspenders is presumably meant to mean what we in the UK call braces or in Scots galluses. Suspenders in the UK are those ghastly looking things that some women use to keep their stockings up – and a certain sort of man finds enthralling! So I did have a bit of a laugh over that little bit of description.