The Winter Ground by Catriona McPherson

I’ve got into the horrible habit recently of reading books all out of order and I had intended waiting until I had the first Dandy Gilver book which I have on request at the library, but in the end I started reading this one, just to get a flavour of it, and just kept going.

The setting is Perthshire, Scotland and it’s 1925. Dandelion Dahlia Gilver, to give her her full title, shouldn’t really be all that likeable because she’s a woman who isn’t keen on heathery moors, isn’t really all that enamoured with her two small boys or her husband for that matter and is a bit upper class and English! But somehow she overcomes all of those disadvantages and is a likeable character.

The other disadvantage of this book, for me anyway, is the fact that it’s about strange goings on at the winter camp of a circus. That put me off a bit because things like that always remind me of Scoobie-Doo! Plus, I’ve always disliked circuses, even as a child I didn’t like performing animals, and clowns are the stuff of nightmares. So given all that, I really should have hated the book, but I didn’t.

Dandy writes to her sidekick Alec, asking him to come and help her investigate the circus which is camped out on land which is owned by her new neighbours, Ina and Albert Wilson, the owners of Benachally Castle. Albert Wilson has invited the circus performers so that Ina can be entertained by them. Ina is wrapped in cotton wool by Albert and more or less a prisoner in her own castle. Albert is trying to keep her safe from germs since their child died in the flu epidemic which hit Europe just after World War I.

That all sounds quite heavy but this is an enjoyable, witty and well-written read. As usual, I’m not saying too much about it all, for fear of spoiling it for other potential readers. Dandy has a Dalmatian dog called Bunty, I mention this just because I do like dogs in books, in fact they’re the perfect kind, no hairs and cleaning up required.

The blurb says that Catriona McPherson has a Ph.D in Linguistics and she uses a lot of words which are presumably authentic to the circus fraternity. I hope they are anyway, and weren’t just manufactured by McPherson.

There’s quite a lot of praise for the Dandy Gilver series on the back of the book but I’ll just give you the one from the Guardian:

‘Dan Brown meets Barbara Pym ….Dandy is brisk, baffled, heroic, kindly, scandalised and – above all – very funny.’

I’ve never read anything by Dan Brown, but I have read quite a few Barbara Pym books. This is quite different I would say, but maybe they meant the quality of the writing.

Some Progress

I’ve been spending my time inadvertently sniffing the fumes from paint and varnish pots during the last couple of days. Actually I’ve been painting the vestibule, magnolia of course, keeping it neutral as we’re advised, the emulsion paint doesn’t smell nearly as bad as it used to mind you. After that I scrubbed the floor tiles and I don’t think they’ve ever looked cleaner in all the 25 years that we’ve lived here. Things are so quiet in the housing market at the moment though, I won’t be at all surprised if nobody turns up to view my hard work, when we do put our house up for sale!

The varnish was worse, smell wise anyway but it did actually do what it said on the tin and was touch dry in two hours, which is just as well because it was the staircase that I was varnishing, and even although I knew I wouldn’t be able to go upstairs once I started on them and planned ahead to take books and things downstairs, there were several times when I wanted soemthing which was up there and I just had to do without. But I’m pleased with the outcome, the stairs are looking a lot better now.

So I feel that I’m making progress again after being at a standstill over the winter. ‘Stuff’ has been recycled or binned – again. Why do I hold on to things like split boots instead of just chucking them immediately? I did actually try to get my 35 year old red wellies on, but my legs have thickened over all those years. I’ve definitely not worn them since we moved here, they’ve just taken up space in the cupboard as they perished.

But I did get quite a lot of reading done today too. I decided just to start the Catriona McPherson book – The Winter Ground. I had intended waiting until I got the first of the Dandy Gilver books, so that I could read them in the correct order, but I read a bit of it then just kept reading, which is surprising really as the book setting is the Perthshire winter camp of a travelling circus. I can’t stand circuses, I even hated them as a child, but strangely, I’m enjoying the book.

Library Books

My local library is out of action at the moment as it’s in the middle of major refurbishment. So for the last 15 months or so we’ve had to put up with a tiny library which they have opened in one of the many empty shops in the High Street, it’s not ideal but it’s better than nothing I suppose. But over the last week I’ve managed to visit two bigger libraries in different Fife towns and the selection was better, so I ended up borrowing:

Love All by Elizabeth Jane Howard
Death at the Opera by Gladys Mitchell
The Winter Ground by Catriona McPherson
Miss Buncle Married by D.E. Stevenson
The Anatomy of Ghosts by Andrew Taylor

I think all of these books or authors have been recommended by other bloggers or commenters, which leads me to wonder how I chose my reading matter before the internet. I’m sure it was Margaret@BooksPlease who pointed me in the direction of Catriona McPherson and Andrew Taylor, but I’ve kicked off with Miss Buncle Married as I enjoyed Miss Buncle’s Book so much.

I also have five books on request so I’ll have to get down to more reading, just at the time when I’m also trying to buff my house and garden up. There aren’t enough hours in the day.

South Queensferry, Scotland

We travelled over the Forth Road Bridge to South Queensferry last Saturday, well the football had been cancelled due to hard frost.

You can’t go to South Queensferry and not take some photos of the Forth Bridge, so here they are!
The Forth Bridge approach

The Forth Bridge

The Hawes Inn appears in Robert Louis Stevenson’s book Kidnapped. As you can see the approach to the bridge is more or less straight above the inn but of course the bridge wasn’t there at the time that Robert Louis Stevenson was writing about.

Hawes Inn, South Queensferry

The photo below is of the main street in South Queensferry, I think it’s quite unusual to have a two tiered street with a pavement and houses being situated over the top of the shops.

South Queensferry

South Queensferry

This vintage car came tootling along just as I was taking the photos, it was like something that Toad out of The Wind in the Willows might have driven. They must have been freezing! I wouldn’t mind going for a drive in it on a hot day though.

A vintage car

As you can see, they have some olde worlde streetlamps in South Queensferry which fit in nicely with the age of the buildings. Even although it was a cold day it was still busy with locals and day trippers, there are quite a few eateries in the town and I think it’s a favourite place for people living in Edinburgh to visit.

South Queensferry

Some of the buildings are really quite ancient, as you can see the date on this pub is 1683.

The Ferry Tap

This photo below is of Jack (husband) eyeing up one of the boats which has been lifted out of the harbour but I don’t think he’ll be taking up sailing.

The Forth Bridge

This is one end of the town from the harbour. It’s a nice wee place to have a bit of a stroll around.

South Queensferry from harbour

It was reading Margaret of Books Please review of a Catriona McPherson book which is set there which made me think it was about time we had another look at South Queensferry. The last time we were there was during the summer when we took a trip on one of the boats which sails regularly to the island of Inchcolm. It’s a good day out, when the weather’s fair. You really wouldn’t want to be stuck out on an island in the middle of the Forth if there was the chance of a howling gale and rain blowing up. You can have a look at my Inchcolm post here.