The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

Modern One

Some years ago I blogged about the art installation that has been added to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh. I thought it was just a temporary thing, a reaction to the financial melt-down of 2008 but obviously it isn’t. In Alexander McCall Smith’s recent Scotland Street book The Bertie Project he mentions this installation. He’s not happy that the word ‘alright’ is there instead of ‘all right’. He has his character Domenica complaining of the use surmising that it must be deliberate as Kingsley Amis desribed ‘alright’ as ‘gross, crass, coarse and to be avoided,’ and Bill Bryson, hardly a fuddy-duddy describes its use as ‘illiterate and unacceptable.’

Domenica admits that she feels very old-fashioned in expecting people to be able to spell. It’s one of McCall Smith’s meandering conversations that often bring in modern morality or ethics.

But a more recent installation in the gallery across the road and several years on from the melt-down is taking a much more pessimistic and possibly Calvinist attitude to our situation.

View from Dean Gallery

It seems we’re done for!

View from Dean Gallery

20 Books of Summer 2017 update

I’m doing quite well with my 20 Books of Summer 2017 list this year although I had meant to do a bit of a half-way roundup before now. I have veered slightly from the list for various reasons, but I’m still hopeful of finding my copy of Sir Walter Scott’s Redgauntlet before September. I did a fatal tidy up before some visitors arrived and now that book is lost in the stacks which is very annoying as before that I knew exactly where it was – on the floor!

1. London Match by Len Deighton
2. I Claudius by Robert Graves
3. Highland River by Neil M. Gunn
4. The Demon in the House by Angela Thirkell
5. The Dove of Venus by Olivia Manning
6. City of the Mind by Penelope Lively
7. The Progress of a Crime by Julian Symons
8. Antidote to Venom by Freeman Wills Crofts
9. This Rough Magic by Mary Stewart
10. Flowers for the Judge by Margery Allingham
11. Claudius the God by Robert Graves
12. Pied Piper by Nevil Shute
13. Miss Ranskill Comes Home by Barbara Euphan Todd
14. Katherine Wentworth by D.E. Stevenson
15. The Bertie Project by Alexander McCall Smith
16. A Memorial Service by J.I.M. Stewart
17. The Madonna of the Astrolabe by J.I.M. Stewart
18. Redgauntlet by Sir Walter Scott
19. High Rising by Angela Thirkell
20. Wild Strawberries by Angela Thirkell

The Bertie Project by Alexander McCall Smith

 The Bertie Project cover

The Bertie Project is the latest offering from Alexander McCall Smith’s Scotland Street series. I was in two minds whether to read this one or not despite the fact that I’ve read all the others but as I recall I didn’t enjoy the previous one so much, mainly because life for Bertie is moving so slowly – it’s not getting any faster.

Bertie is still on a treadmill of his mother’s making such as – Italian conversazione lessons, yoga, weekly visits to a psychologist (it’s Irene his mother who needs those).

Stuart, Bertie’s father is just about at the end of his tether. He has been completely emasculated by Irene who it transpires even made him walk down the aisle to her when they got married and insisted that Stuart promised to obey her.

So when a chance meeting with a pleasant woman in Henderson’s vegetarian cafe leads to him realising that not all women are obnoxious like Irene – the inevitable happens and Stuart falls for her.

Hallelujah! (I said anyway) and Stuart’s mother said something similar when she found out as it hasn’t been easy for her to watch her son being bossed and bullied by Irene. Honestly I thought Irene was going to get her comeuppance – but not for long. I suppose the ghastly Irene is just too good a character for McCall Smith to think of getting rid of her permanently – I live in hope of it though.

Jack read the first Scotland Street book as it appeared in a ‘must read’ list of Scottish books, but he was less than impressed by it, mainly I think because it was so obviously meant for throwaway publication in a newspaper. You can read what he thought of it here.

McCall Smith’s own attitudes are really beginning to annoy me though. He’s labeling Irene a fascist, well she’s definitely intolerant of anyone different from her, but she’s also apparently (shock horror) a Guardian reader, something that the author seems to despise. Also I’m a bit fed up that the only time he veers away from wealthy Edinbuggers as characters was to ‘slum’ it in Glasgow where the characters were criminals!

I’m beginning to think that these books will be looked back on in years to come as being terrifically snobby, even more so than say Angela Thirkell’s books are nowadays. I suppose though he is just writing about the Edinburgh that he has experience of.

An amendment on the inside flap of this book says: Oops! On page 1 of this book and elsewhere, the Turner Prize, as Bertie would be quick to point out to us, has been misprinted as the Turner Prise; no disrespect to the prize was intended. The problem is due to a computer error whereby words ending in – ize e.g. size or seize have been changed to -ise endings.

Oops indeed, especially as there are quite a few mentions of Turner Prise due to the author having a bit of a bee in his bonnet about it.

I read this one for 20 Books of Summer 2017 and the Read Scotland 2017 Challenge.

The Revolving Door of Life by Alexander McCall Smith

 The Revolving Door of Life cover

The Revolving Door of Life by Alexander McCall Smith is the latest in his 44 Scotland Street series. I didn’t enjoy the previous one as much as I had some of the others, but this one was better I think.

Bertie is still only seven years old, I reckon that that is the third book in which he is still seven. At the end of the previous book Bertie’s mother Irene has gone on a trip to the Persian Gulf and she has somehow ended up being taken captive in a sheik’s harem there. Irene is a very pushy and truly ghastly sort of female Edinbugger, a keen devotee of the child psychologist Melanie Kline and that has led to her trying her best to emasculate poor wee Bertie – perish the thought that he should want to do anything ‘boyish’ or even wear anything normal such as blue jeans. Bertie must wear pink dungarees. Her long suffering husband Stuart is enjoying the respite and fears that Irene will find her way back to Edinburgh all too soon. Meanwhile his mother has come to help him look after his two sons – Bertie and Ulysses.

The lack of Irene is probably why I enjoyed this book more as she is so annoying. As ever there are moral decisions to be taken by many of the characters in the book. Such as – is it fair game to set up someone you know to be a gold-digger in order to rid your father of her attentions? Everybody makes the correct choices and everything is hunky dory – if only real life were like that!

Bertie’s ambition is to move to Glasgow as soon as he legally can – and he thinks that is when he is 18, at this rate he’s never going to reach there which is a real shame because I would love it if McCall Smith continued the series in Glasgow at some point.

I read this one for the Read Scotland 2016 Challenge, my 35th or possibly 36th.

Fatty O’Leary’s Dinner Party by Alexander McCall Smith

 Fatty O'Leary's Dinner Party cover

Fatty O’Leary’s Dinner Party by Alexander McCall Smith is a very quick read at just 174 pages of fairly big print, so it’s ideal for taking with you to the beach (if you’re that way inclined, I’m not) or to a hospital appointment or bus trip, as it’s not something you have to concentrate on, it’s a piece of light entertainment.

Fatty O’Leary lives in Arkansas with his wife Betty, they’re very happy, were childhood sweethearts and can honestly say that they never argue. They’re really very contented, but Betty wants to surprise Fatty with a birthday present of tickets to Ireland to visit his roots. It’ll be the trip of a lifetime for them.

Unfortunately things go badly for Fatty from the very beginning when their flight has been overbooked and they are looking for someone to volunteer to miss the flight and go on a later one. When no volunteer comes forward it’s suggested that Fatty should be bounced off the flight due to him being rather overweight. Poor Fatty, he’s mortified and when he does get to Ireland he discovers that his case is missing so he has no clothes and he can’t find anything to fit him in Ireland.

The whole thing is a complete disaster with Fatty and Betty left feeling they have been very poorly treated by the Irish as they suffer one indignity after another and so they opt to go home early.

This has some hilarious situations in it, it’s a bit of a hoot in a completely silly way and although on the surface it might be viewed as being ‘fattist’ it isn’t really and eventually has a happy ending.

I had a cheeky wee keek at Goodreads to see what other people thought of this book and I think it really depends on how much of a sense of humour folks have. It is supposed to be very tongue in cheek I’m sure but the negative comments made me laugh almost as much as the book did. One reader said that – as Fatty was an antique dealer he couldn’t be that stupid as they were sure you had to have qualifications for that job. Really! Well it made me laugh my socks off.

This one counts towards the Read Scotland 2016 Challenge.

I am left wondering how Alexander McCall Smith finds the time to write so many books, maybe he has managed to clone himself!

Emma by Alexander McCall Smith

I’m really not all that keen on the idea of Jane Austen’s books being rewritten by famous contemporary authors, so I don’t really know why I decided to borrow this one Emma by Alexander McCall Smith which was published in 2014.

Actually I ended up quite enjoying it. It’s yonks since I read the original Emma, but I think that McCall Smith goes into more detail over some of the characters’ backgrounds, unnecessarily really, but otherwise it was fine.

Emma Woodhouse is of course being brought up by her father as her mother is dead. Mr Woodhouse was born during the Cuban Missile Crisis, a time when everyone was half expecting to be going up in a big nuclear bang. The stress of it all has affected his mother and she transferred her stress to her baby, which explains Mr Woodhouse’s extreme fear and stress over just about every aspect of life.

As Emma grows up he employs a Scottish governess for her. Miss Taylor comes from Edinburgh and is a typical Presbyterian, all conscience and hard work ethic. This gives the author a chance to delve into the philosophical, moral and ethical questions that he so much enjoys writing about, but those passages can sometimes fall with a clunk into the book.

I gave this one three stars on Goodreads. I see that there were six authors who were doing these rewrites, one of them was Val McDermid who rewrote Northanger Abbey and is one of the more successful ones. I think I’ll give that one a go sometimes. Have any of you read any of the others?

Library Books

You might know that I’ve been doing an awful lot of library borrowing in recent months. Sixteen local libraries (Fife) are under threat of closure and I and lots of other people have been doing a bit of campaigning to try to get at least some of the libraries a reprieve. I’m concentrating on Glenwood, Markinch and Falkland as those are the ones nearest me. I’ve been to all three of them this week and my library haul is:

1. The Lady in the Tower by Alison Weir
2. Smut by Alan Bennett
3. The Catherine Wheel by Patricia Wentworth
4. A Particular Eye for Villainy by Ann Granger
5. Snare of the Hunter by Helen MacInnes
6. Peter Wimsey Investigates the Late Scholar by Jill Paton Walsh
7. Bertie’s Guide to Life and Mothers by Alexander McCall Smith
8. Scotland’s Hidden History by Ian Armit

Jack has also borrowed books:-
First World War Poems chosen by Andrew Motion,
The Fires of Autumn by Irene Nemirovsky
21st Century Science Fiction edited by David G Hartwell and Patrick Nielsen Hayden
and The Untouchables by John Banville (which he actually has a copy of but not read yet and only borrowed to boost the numbers.)

I haven’t read anything by Ann Granger before but the librarian likes her writing, nor have I read anything by Alan Bennett, but I’ve enjoyed his work on TV. Scotland’s Hidden History by Ian Armit is the only non-fiction book and it’s about the many Neolithic tombs, stone circles, brochs, hillforts, standing stones, Viking graves and such which are scattered all over Scotland.

I intend to read them all, it seems like cheating to take books out of the libraries and not read them – just to put the reader statistics up – but at this rate I’ll definitely have to stop buying books as my own unread books just keep piling up!

Have you read any of these book and if so what did you think of them?

PS. If you want to see photographs of the Falls of Dochart which we visited with Peggy and Evee in May then hop over to Jack’s blog.

The Great Tapestry of Scotland

Last week we went to the Scottish Parliament where The Great Tapestry of Scotland is on exhibition, it’s the longest tapestry in the world apparently. I meant to visit it this time last year but didn’t get around to it, due to pressure of house selling and too many people viewing our old place. It was my old family friend Isabel who recommended that I visit the exhibition, I knew that it must be good if she was impressed because she’s a really great embroiderer herself.

Of course it isn’t a tapestry it’s an embroidery, but then neither is the Bayeux Tapestry a tapestry, there seems to be a tradition of misnaming such things. I took quite a few photos of the panels which were of most interest to me, but I haven’t sorted them out yet. Meanwhile, you can see images of the panels here.

The tapestry has been wandering around Scotland for the past year or so and nobody seemed able to give it a permanent home but I just heard on the Scottish news tonight that it is going to be on permanant exhibition at Melrose eventually. I’m so glad I saw it in Edinburgh as Melrose isn’t exactly central.

The author Alexander McCall Smith was the chap who came up with the idea of a ‘tapestry’ depicting Scotland’s history and the artist Andrew Crummy designed it with the work being carried out by hundreds of embroiderers from all over Scotland.

Below you can see the first stitch being put into the design.

Sunshine On Scotland Street by Alexander McCall Smith

Often when I go into a library my mind goes completely blank and I find myself scanning the shelves hoping that something pops up or my brain gets into gear. It doesn’t help when the place has just been completely re-organised as well, but I did think to myself – Alexander McCall Smith – it’s about time he had a new Scotland Street book out. Sure enough, there was one sitting on a shelf.

Previously I’ve enjoyed this series, as much for the Edinburgh setting as anything else really but I think it is going downhill. It’s the usual cast of characters really, although Angus Lordie and his new wife Domenica don’t play much of a role as they take off for their honeymoon. Cyril the dog is the best part of the book, so there must be something going wrong with the series.

For some reason Bertie is still 6 years old, and it’s mentioned quite a few times, he’s still wearing his crushed strawberry dungarees, much to his shame, in fact he seems to be unchanged, very strange considering how quickly children do change. His mother, Irene continues to be a pain in the neck, only relieved by another child’s mother getting the better of her. Bruce Anderson, another pain, hasn’t got his come-uppance, surely it must happen sometime, Matthew will certainly be hoping so!

The author rambles off at times, often the best bits of the book as he comments on Thatcher and how awful she was and various ethical and religious musings, he gets a few things off his chest, like government statistics and the fact that not all Scots speak with a broad accent, but it doesn’t mean they are English. The trouble is that so many wealthy Scots still send their sons to Eton, a tradition which started when Scottish clan chiefs decided it would be a good idea to Anglicise their sons after the union. It is difficult to see people as Scots when they have an upper class English accent. Having said that, my own sons have been accused of being English, just because they don’t have a Fife accent.

In the past I’ve enjoyed when McCall Smith shoehorns real Edinburgh characters into his books, but I did think OOPS! when Cardinal Keith O’Brien (he was the head of RCs in Britain) suddenly appeared briefly in the story, described as a very nice man. Obviously it was written pre his massive fall from grace. It is thought that Pope Benedict resigned after he discovered that O’Brien had had a long career of abusing young priests, who were completely under his control. So maybe it’s best to stick with fictional characters.

I don’t know if I’ll bother reading the next book in this series, when it comes out. I didn’t hate this one, but it definitely misses the west of Scotland characters and humour, in the shape of the Glaswegian hard man Lard O’Connor, it was a mistake to kill him off. Of course it could be that I am just not in the mood for a Scotland Street book at the moment, and I am just being a grumpy old curmudgeon.

Library Book Haul

It was much cooler today on the east coast of Scotland than it has been for the past week or so, but still bright and sunny. We decided just to take a walk to the newly reopened library, it had been closed for 18 months or so for refurbishment.

I don’t really like anything about the new library set up. The lovely old built in bookcases have disappeared, replaced by low free-standing bookcases, and there are too many different sections which you have to check for authors. I prefer books just to be alphabetical, then you can see straight away if the author or particular book you are looking for is there. There’s just too much scope for books to be misplaced, so you have to look all over the place. Why on earth do they have a section for ‘family’ books? I’m sure there are far fewer books in the library than there used to be, due to the low shelving which is no doubt there for easy access to everyone. The library is now self-service, although I suppose you can wait to be served by a member of staff if you so wish. I suspect they want to cut back on employees eventually.

Anyway, I did take a few books out. I’m trying to work my way through the Agatha Raisin series, so I grabbed:

Agatha Raisin Hiss and Hers by M.C. Beaton
Agatha Raisin and the Potted Gardener by M.C. Beaton
Sunshine on Scotland Street by Alexander McCall Smith
The Three Evangelists by Fred Vargas – who I hadn’t even heard of until my friend Joan Kyler mentioned her. It’ll be interesting to try out this new to me author.

As you can see, I’m still in an easy/light reading phase and I’m a third of the way through Sunshine on Scotland Street already.