Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times

Shelves of Scottish Books

It’s Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times again which is hosted by Judith at Reading in the Wilderness. Click on the photo to enlarge it.

Again I’m travelling along some shelves of my books by Scottish authors.

Dorothy Dunnett‘s Spring of the Ram is the second book in her Niccolo series and I should be reading that one soonish although it doesn’t appear in my 20 Books of Summer list – silly me. Dunnett’s books are dense and maybe not the best for bedtime reading, for one thing they are quite hefty, they’re definitely not for bath time reading, that’s just something that I can never do anyway. Just think – if Archimedes hadn’t been having a nice thoughtful laze in his bath and had been reading instead then he would never have had his EUREKA moment.

I’m always in a bit of a quandary as to where I should shelve books, would Michael Innes be happier living among a shelf full of crime fiction, or is he more comfortable with fellow Scots? Anyway, it’s quite a while since I read any of his books and although I enjoy his writing I prefer the books that he wrote under the name J.I.M. Stewart which usually feature life in an Oxford college and were obviously inspired by his life as a lecturer. I decided to put his Gollancz books here and his paperback crime Penguins are together with the rest of the green Penguins.

I have quite a few books by Compton Mackenzie who was actually English but at some point he did some research into his family tree and discovering that he had Scots blood in his background he seized on that with relish and became more Scots than the actual Scots, buying an island, wearing a kilt and immersing himself in the culture as much as he could. I particularly love his wartime books set on fictional islands which had been transformed from their usual quiet abodes to places that were heaving with soldiers, sailors and airmen – much to the delight of the local female population. Keep the Home Guard Turning is hilarious, very much in the style of Dad’s Army, but years before that long running TV series was thought of.

Are you a fan of any of the authors on these shelves?

Scapa Flow Visitor Centre, Hoy, Orkney

The small island of Hoy is a fairly short ferry trip from the Orkney mainland. The Scapa Flow Visitor Centre is well worth the trip. The area was very busy during both World Wars as it’s so strategically placed it’s a perfect place to position a large part of the British Navy, meaning the population exploded with the arrival of loads of sailors and soldiers and airmen too.

This inevitably led to a change in the opportunities of the local females who up until then didn’t have much to choose from when it came to getting married. When the navy finally weighed anchors and sailed off permanently the local females’ horizons must have closed in on them again. To compensate for this disappointment it seems that they were encouraged to take up pig farming instead of getting married. No difference some might say! I liked the cartoon below which appeared in a local newspaper at the time.


The author Compton Mackenzie (Monarch of the Glen, Whisky Galore) owned a couple of the islands and was stationed here and donated his uniform to the museum.
Comptom Mackenzie's Battle-dress

It’s really quite a good museum with exhibits inside and outside, although I’m not too interested in military hardware.


I was happier with the more domestic parts such as this mock up of a typical 1930s interior, although I feel that they could be doing with a nice 1930s three piece suite, if I had known that I would have donated one to them before we moved, as I ended up giving it to a local college to practice their upholstery skills on.

1930s room

You can have a look at an air raid shelter, there must have been more of them scattered around but possibly they’ve all been filled in again.

Air-raid shelter

There’s also a tearoom, done out to look like it would have in the 1930s, but it was full of people partaking of the cup that cheers – as usual, so I didn’t take any photos of it. They had tasty cakes though.

The sign above the door seems to be the original one.
Church Army Sign

Hoy is well worth a visit. I’m only annoyed that we didn’t realise that the ferry is such a small one with not much room for vehicles, so you have to book ahead, we were too late to book so we just went as foot passengers, so could only explore by foot. Next time we’ll take the car and travel across as much of Hoy as we can as there’s obviously a lot more to see than we managed, going from these images.

Orkney Book Purchases

For some reason I never gave any thought to the book buying possibilities in Orkney, but as we were driving around Kirkwall looking for a place to park I spotted a sign saying those wonderful words – Secondhand Books. Luckily after visiting the town centre, Saint Magnus Cathedral and two Historic Scotland properties we were able to walk back to the car and find the bookshop not too far away. So my haul was.

Latest Book Haul

1. The Tall Stranger by D.E. Stevenson
2. Evensong by Beverley Nichols
3. Hunting the Fairies by Compton Mackenzie
4. Rogues and Vagabonds by Compton Mackenzie
5. Cloak of Darkness by Helen MacInnes
6. North from Rome by Helen MacInnes
7. Britannia Mews by Margery Sharp
8. Off In a Boat (A Hebridean Voyage) by Neil M. Gunn

Six of them are by Scottish authors so they’ll come in handy for the Reading Scotland 2017 Challenge.

Have you read any of these?

The Rival Monster by Compton Mackenzie

The Rival Monster cover

The Rival Monster by Compton Mackenzie was first published in 1952. The setting is again the Scottish Highlands and Islands, more particularly the islands of Little Todday and Great Todday, the islands made famous by the sinking of a ship full of whisky in his earlier book Whisky Galore. In fact if you intend to read these books you should start with Keep the Home Guard Turning then read Whisky Galore, then Rockets Galore. All absolute hoots.

The Loch Ness monster had been very shy all through the war when the area had been taken over by the military, but more recently there have been several sitings of a terrifying monster with enormous teeth like a hayrake. There’s suspicion that the whole situation has been drummed up to lure tourists up to the islands.

Ben Nevis – the local laird is incensed because he thinks ‘his’ Loch Ness monster has been lured away to an island loch and he vows to bring it back to Loch Ness.

A Glasgow newspaper gets involved when a local claims that he saw the monster being hit by a flying object which is being described by the press as a flying saucer but is supposedly more akin to a flying teapot spout! It’s feared the monster has been killed.

Paul Waggett, the Englishman who fondly imagines he is far superior to any of the locals is of course as delusional as ever and brings a lot of humour to the book. The whole thing is completely nutty, but very well written with Mackenzie having a wonderful feeling for the various dialects used by the characters ranging from the cockney of Mistress Odd who has fallen in love with the islands since her son married one of the islanders, to the differing Scots dialects and Gaelic phrases scattered throughout, luckily there’s a glossary at the back!

I read this one for the Read Scotland 2016 Challenge.

Scottish Highland Book Purchases

books 2

The photo above is of the books that I managed to buy on our brief jaunt up to the Highlands with Peggy. Some were bought at the Pitlochry railway station, a local charity has turned an old waiting room into a bookshop, and they have some great books at very reasonable prices. There’s also another second-hand bookshop just off the high street, well worth a look. I think it’s called Priory Books. I bought two there I believe.

Others I bought in Fort William in a second-hand bookshop just off the main street. It’s not that big but I’m always lucky there.

A few of these books jumped right to the top of my queue so I’ve already read three of them, but only managed to blog about one of them so far – Candleshoe.

Garden Open Tomorrow by Beverley Nichols
The Small Dark Man by Maurice Walsh
The River Monster by Compton Mackenzie
The Progress of a Crime by Julian Symons
The Wooden Overcoat by Pamela Branch
King Hereafter by Dorothy Dunnett (about Macbeth)
Quenn’s Play by Dorothy Dunnett
A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute
Candleshoe by Michael Innes
A Child’s Garden of Verses by R.L. Stevenson (illustrated by Michael Foreman)

A decent haul I think but it is a wee bit worrying that within less than two weeks I bought 24 books, apart from anything else I need another bookcase now, or maybe I should perform a book cull, but I’ve done that before and ended up regretting getting rid of some books. I might have a six months cooling off period for them in the garage and see how I feel about them after that.

Have you bought many books recently?

‘Glenbogle’ Ardverikie Estate, Scottish Highlands

a Glenbogle 1

On our recent trip up to the Highlands with Peggy we were driving along admiring the views, well Jack couldn’t do so much admiring because he had to concentrate on the driving, when Peggy remarked that a lodge house we had just passed looked like the one from the TV programme Monarch of the Glen. When we saw a sign by the side of a few shops saying Glenbogle – she just about went off the scale of excitement! It is in fact Ardverikie estate and the loch is called Loch Laggan. The series was based on the books by Compton Mackenzie.

Glenbogle/Ardverikie estate

That road is pretty twisty turny but we did find a lay-by to stop off in and we climbed under/over the crash barrier and down a steep thistle and nettle edged path to reach the edge of the loch. As you can see we had a great day for sightseeing.

Glenbogle /Ardverikie estate

What a view the owners have from their home, I believe it was on the market a few years ago – asking price a mere 7 million quid. I wonder if it is now owned by a Russian oligarch or some such. The house is built in the Scottish baronial style, very popular in Victorian times.

I spotted the wee jetty that features in the programme too but seem to have managed to miss it of the few photos I took. I hope Peggy managed to get it.

The beach is my kind of beach with lovely glittering mica laden stones with bits of pink granite scattered around too. But we couldn’t linger all that long as we wanted to reach Dornie where our B&B accomodation awaited us. We did plan to go past ‘Glenbogle’ again and check out the few shops nearby but a slight change in the route back meant that we somehow missed the turn off. Ah well – maybe next time.

Water on the Brain by Compton Mackenzie

Water on the Brain cover

Water on the Brain by Compton Mackenzie was first published in 1933 but my copy was published in 1954 and the author had added a preface explaining that the book had been written just after his trial at the Old Bailey under the Official Secrets Act. Mackenzie says that in 1933 the book must have seemed like something out of a Marx Brothers film, such was the craziness that those in ‘Intelligence’ got up to. But he thinks that post World War 2 many people who had come into contact with the Intelligence Services would have recognised the types of characters involved.

The book had me laughing out loud quite a lot, it’s a hoot. Of course it counts towards the Read Scotland 2016 Challenge, my tenth Scottish book this year.

The action begins in London where a young army major, Arthur Blenkinsop is living with his wife in a service flat. He had seen action in World War 1 but since then he had been working in Mendacia, a small outpost of the British Empire. That job had come to an end when the local political situation changed, and back in London he is looking for work so he is delighted when he gets a letter from the Director of Extraordinary Intelligence asking him to call at the War Office for an interview.

Major Blenkinsop is such an idiot he’s taken on by Intelligence immediately and sent up to Scotland to try to broker a deal which would mean that the ex king of Mendacia gets into power again. Blenkinsop’s cover is that he is working in the banana business but his wife is suspicious from the beginning and she thinks he is having an affair. She follows Arthur up to the Scottish Hydro in the Highlands where he becomes involved with two elderly sisters who are English but are very aware of their Macadam forebears and are in Scotland for the first time ever. They get completely caught up in it all and believe that there is a plan to bring Home Rule to Scotland and that they can help.

It does indeed become something akin to a Marx Brothers film and as Compton Mackenzie was one of the founder members of the Scottish National Party and the powers in England were worried that it would become something like Sinn Fein in Ireland, it’s not surprising that people were keeping an eye on him.

I read this book and wrote the post quite a while ago and have only just realised that I didn’t get around to actually publishing the post.

Recent Book Purchases

Books are still coming into the house faster than I can possibly read them. Even although I don’t work nowadays I still only manage to read at most two books a week, unless I’m on a vintage crime binge and then I can read more. When you consider that most weeks my book ownership is going up by four or so books, you’ll realise that I’m never going to be in a position of having nothing at all to read.

Latest Books

Last week I bought:

The North Wind of Love by Compton Mackenzie
The Casino by Margaret Bonham
The Ladies of Lyndon by Margaret Kennedy
Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm by Kate Douglas Wiggin

I was under the impression that The North Wind of Love was the beginning of Mackenzie’s ‘Four Winds of Love’ series – but it isn’t.
I’ve never read anything by Margaret Kennedy but I know lots of bloggers love her books so I’m hopeful.
I’ve also never read anything by Margaret Bonham but it’s a Persephone so I think it’ll probably be good.

Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm is pure nostalgia. All of my childhood books were given away by my mother when my back was turned, I think my Rebecca book was a cheap paperback, but I couldn’t resist this hardback from 1903. I love its cover and I’ve just realised that it’s a first edition, not that I’m bothered by such things, and it seems to be dirt cheap on the internet anyway.

Have you read any of these books?

Read Scotland 2014

It’s time for a Read Scotland 2014 update, in fact it’s way past time as I’ve just realised that I’ve read 15 Scottish books this year, so I’ve gone beyond Ben Nevis as I knew I would. I don’t know what the next level could be called – do you?

I haven’t been very good at linking to the challenge so here’s what I’ve read so far.

1. Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott
2. Lanark by Alasdair Gray
3. Rockets Galore by Compton Mackenzie
4. A Double Death on the Black Isle by A.D. Scott
5. The Comforters by Muriel Spark
6. Secrets of the Sea House by Elisabeth Gifford
7. The Cabinetmaker by Alan Jones
8. The Daffodil Affair by Michael Innes
9. The Four Graces by D.E. Stevenson
10. The First Book of the McFlannels by Helen W. Pryde
11. The McFlannels See It Through by Helen W. Pryde
12. Sleeping Tiger by Rosamund Pilcher
13. The Clydesiders by Margaret Thomson Davis
14. The Kellys of Kelvingrove by Margaret Thomson Davis
15. Standing in Another Man’s Grave by Ian Rankin – which I have yet to blog about but I really enjoyed it.

A few of these authors have been new to me and of those I think Compton Mackenzie has been the most surprising and entertaining, followed closely by Helen W. Pryde, I must get around to tracking down the rest in her series.

The most disappointing has been Secrets of the Sea House which was just not my cup of tea and was full of cultural mistakes, it isn’t authentically Scottish at all.

I haven’t read any Scottish non-fiction at all but I intend to remedy that soon, so stand by (Lorraine in particular) for a non fiction blogpost – when I’ve rounded up the ones I hope to read this year – which is almost half-way through already. How did that happen?!

Rockets Galore by Compton Mackenzie

Rockets Galore was published in 1957 and is set on the fictional Scottish islands of Great and Little Todday, as were his previous books Keep the Home Guard Turning and the better known Whisky Galore, which was of course made into a film.

It is Cold War era and the government has decided that the islands are needed to house the rockets which will supposedly protect the people in Britain by firing at the people in Russia. The islanders have been told that some land will be needed for the plans and some of them will have to move off the islands altogether, as you can imagine, that news doesn’t go down well. In reality both islands will need to be evacuated completely, but the powers that be are keeping quiet about that to begin with.

Later one islander says: Yes they’re going to make a desert of the Western Isles and call it peace.

His friend replies: I think desert will be the last word you’ll be able to apply to the Islands when they’re full of these chaps training for ballistic warfare. But don’t misunderstand me Hugh. I feel just as strongly as you do about this rocket business, but what can we do? If we could trust the Russians … but we can’t. They mean to rule the world, and we and the United States have got to stop them. And by the time they’re ruling what’s left of the world, the Chinese will step in a rule them.

Well that Compton Mackenzie seems to have been quite a seer, as it feels like China is taking over now!

The islanders are being wildly underestimated by their so called betters of course and have plenty of tricks up their sleeves to see the invaders off.

An enjoyable and amusing read.

I read this one for the Read Scotland 2014 Challenge.