The McFlannels see it through by Helen W. Pryde

The ‘it’ which the McFlannels are seeing through in this the second book in the series, is of course World War 2. The McFlannels are all doing their bit as is everyone living up the same close in Glasgow. Mr McMuslin is an Air Raid Precaution Warden (put that light out!) and is fairly enjoying himself trying to organise his neighbours. Sarah McFlannel is really only interested in seeing the inside of the McMuslin flat though and when he implies that she can’t take part in the fire watching (looking out for fires caused by bombs) because you have to be under 60, Sarah is incensed, she’s not much older than 50.

The book is full of laughs although as they’re in broad Glaswegian – especially when it’s Willie McFlannel speaking – I’m not sure how well it will go down with non Glaswegians. For me though it brings back so many phrases that I had just forgotten about, and I love the relationship between Willie and Sarah McFlannel. Their children are almost off their hands now, but Willie is still always looking for a ‘wee cheeper’ (a kiss) from Sarah, and Sarah is always being shown up by her husband’s broad Glaswegian accent. Long may it live!

In this one Willie ends up in hospital, having had an accident at work. He keeps dropping in and out of consciousness and one woman says:” Ah mind when Ah had ma operation for ma perspirated stummuck, there wis a wumman in the next bed that was aye drappin’ intae unconsciousness like that, and she was deid in hauf an hoor.” Poor Sarah isn’t amused.

There are quite a few books in this series but the first two have hit the mark with me because the first one was all about the McFlannels flitting and moving up the housing ladder, just as we were arranging our flitting. At the end of The McFlannels see it through they are thinking about downsizing as the kids have grown up, we followed the same pattern as I was reading the books. I wonder what will happen in the next one.

Whatever, I’m sure that there will still be a rivalry between Mrs McFlannel and Mrs McCotton, it’s what’s keeping them going!

I read this one as part of the Read Scotland 2014 challenge.

The First Book of the McFlannels by Helen W. Pryde

This book was first published in 1947. I managed to buy the second book in the series in a St Andrews bookshop but as I’m determined to read the books in the correct order I had to resort to the internet for book 1. I’m so glad that I did because the book was such a laugh, it was a real tonic and as the McFlannel family are arranging their flitting at the beginning of the book it was very apt as we are flitting at the end of the week after 26 years in this house. Peggy Ann got her hands on the first book before I did, you can read what she thought of it here.

The McFlannels are a typical working class Glaswegian family, it’s 1928 and Mr McFlannel is a fitter in one of the Clyde shipyards, and even though he is bringing home a good wage, he is adamant that he doesn’t want to live in a ‘bought’ house, he’s happy to pay a rent his whole life. His wife Sarah has ambitions for a better life for herself and her family and is thrilled to be flitting (moving) from their room and kitchen tenement, with a place on the stair (outside lavatory), to a bigger flat, even Willie her husband has to admit that their room and kitchen is too wee for them and their four children.

This had me laughing out loud in parts, not something which often happens to me, but it was just so funny. The relationship between Mr and Mrs McFlannel is so realistic and she reminded me of my own mother. I can clearly remember my mother boasting to our Glasgow neighbours that we were buying a house because she had always wanted her own back and front door.

All of the characters are named after fabric, which denotes their type of personality. McTapestry, McVelvet and McPlush are obviously meant to be a bit higher up the social scale than the McTwills or McCottons, in their own eyes anyway. My personal favourite was the name McCamel Hair, but so far they have only been a brief mention, maybe they’ll have a bigger part in the second book which has a World War II setting.

I’m starting it tonight as I’m in need of something light and humorous at the moment, navigating around our house is a nightmare, the books are the worst things to pack, fair enough you don’t have to wrap them in bubble wrap but there are just so many of them and you can’t put too many in one box otherwise you can’t lift the box, and the weight of the books pulls the box apart, amd we still have four bookcases to empty. What I want to know is – whose idea was it to buy all these books!

You might find the Glaswegian website below interesting.
Have a look here at the Our Glasgow Story site.

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.

The House That Is Our Own by O. Douglas

As usual this is another book about houses and homes. O. Douglas seems to have been writing her dreams. As a spinster I suppose she spent most of her life living in her parent’s homes and longing to have a place of her own, so until she could do that she fulfilled her wishes by building fictional homes.

Kitty and Isobel are living in an hotel, as people sometimes did especially during World War 2 – this book was first published in 1940. But they are both hankering after something more permanent.

Surprisingly they don’t pool their resources and buy a home together, Kitty decides to take a service flat in London, but Isobel falls for a ramshackle old historic house in the Scottish Borders which she finds when she is on holiday there.

The House that is Our Own is full of wit and wisdom, such as:- you’re much too easily pleased with everything. The world will simply make a footstool of you if you ask so little from it. I wish I had realised that many moons ago!

Kitty and Isobel look at lots of flats in London. Are there really people who would live in a basement, always in artificial light, and be willing to pay £150 a year for the privilege?
How shocked they would have been if they were told how much it would cost to rent a flat in central London in 2013!

This was another enjoyable comfort read from O. Douglas which I chose deliberately when we were having our house put in order prior to putting it on the market, it was a shock to us because we had been under the impression that the house was perfect and ‘ready to go’. So I could have done without the fictional workmen which turned up in the book at a time when we were dealing with actual workmen unexpectedly. Such is life.

Dandy Gilver & an Unsuitable Day for a Murder by Catriona McPherson

Dandy Gilver & an Unsuitable Day for a Murder cover

I enjoyed this one a lot although it might appeal to me more than to most people purely because of the setting, which is Dunfermline in Fife, a town which I know well.

The setting is 1927 and Dandy Gilver has been called to Dunfermline to search for a young woman who has disappeared. Mirren is the only child of a family who own a department store in Dunfermline. The Aitkens have been in business in the town for 50 years and when Dandy gets there they are busy celebrating their golden anniversary, the town is throbbing with the excitement of the day but it isn’t long before things take a nasty turn and Dandy has a lot of unravelling to do, amongst the three generations of the Aitken family.

Add the Hepburns, the owners of the rival department store in Dunfermline into the mix, and it all leads to a maze of twists and turns which at times I had a wee bit of trouble with, mainly because of all the various family members involved.

‘They’ do say that there are only seven plotlines in fiction and at first this one would seem to be the Romeo and Juliet story, but Sir Walter Scott’s phrase ‘Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive’ from his poem Marmion – best sums up the goings on in this book I think.

The Setons by O. Douglas

If you have a look at my library thing you’ll see that I’ve been reading John Buchan’s Witch Wood, but I have to admit that I only got to page 43 before deciding that I wasn’t in the mood for it. I almost never give up on a book completely so it’s just waiting until I feel more like reading it, or as we used to say in Scotland – until it comes up my back. Do not ask me where that saying comes from as I haven’t a clue!

Anyway, I felt that John Buchan’s sister O. Douglas matched my mood more, so I settled down with The Setons which was first published in 1917.

This book follows a now familiar pattern of a family with widely differing ages of children. It’s set in Glasgow and of course it’s the Seton family who live there, the father being a widowed church minister. Elizabeth, his daughter, is in her 20s and she takes the place of ‘mother’, especially to her brother ‘Buff’ who is only five years old.

It’s a comfy book, very autobiographical I’m sure, it’s probably an accurate depiction of the sort of life which O. Douglas experienced when the Buchan family was living in Glasgow, no doubt she used plenty of her acquaintances as characters. There is inevitably quite a lot of Scottish Presbyterianism and mentions of the Bible.

She was very fond of having a wee boy who was doted on in her books, it seems such a shame she only had brothers and never had any children of her own. Although the mother in this book is dead, the Buchan’s mother was very much alive and the book is decicated to her.

They sought the glory of their country: they see the glory of God.

Towards the end of The Setons the Great War rears its ugly head and it moves from being the usual cosy, romantic and amusing tale with interesting Scottish social history, to something altogether more sad but no doubt it echoed so many peoples’ experiences at the time.

I of course enjoyed it for the Glasgow setting, as I was born there and brought up not far away from the streets mentioned. There were quite a lot of visits to shops and Glasgow owned up-market department stores which I had remembered being in as a child. They’re all gone now, such a shame, but it was quite a nostalgia trip for me. It’s always good to be able to imagine an exact location, even when almost 100 years has gone past since the book was written. I think you can get The Setons from Project Gutenberg.

The Complaints by Ian Rankin

It seems like absolutely no time since I was in the kitchen listening to an interview with Ian Rankin on the radio. So it was a wee bit of a shock to me to realise that it must have been a 2009 interview, as the book he was plugging at the time was The Complaints, the first in a new series. The next thing I heard was that he was bringing back Rebus in his most recently published book and that it’s also his third Malcolm Fox book. I thought I’d better start reading the Malcolm Fox series before it gets out of hand and he has written 20 of them.

I managed to borrow the Complaints from the library. It’s set mainly in Edinburgh, as you would expect and Malcolm Fox is the main character. He’s a detective working in the Complaints section of the Lothian Police, they investigate other policemen and are deeply despised by all of their so-called colleagues. Fox is described as a bear of a man, although he has lost weight recently and he is also a recovering alcoholic. He’s not exactly popular, even amongst the other Complaints and Conduct detectives.

I really didn’t feel that I was enjoying this book until I was almost half way into it, I think that was mainly because I was missing Rebus and I kept imagining Fox as the Rebus character but eventually I got over that and I ended up enjoying The Complaints more than the Rebus books, mind you, I think I’ve only read about four of those.

The action takes place over just 17 days in 2009. Malcolm Fox has been told to investigate Jamie Breck, a young detective who has been ear-marked for fast-tracking to the top. There’s plenty going on in and around Edinburgh, murders and disappearances, dodgy business dealings and corrupt council officials and nobody knows who they can trust. It’s difficult to figure out who are the good guys and there are plenty of twists and turns in this book, I’m looking forward to reading the second book in the Fox series.

It’s easy to see that the nefarious goings-on of Edinburgh Council give Ian Rankin loads of copy!

Pink Sugar by O. Douglas (Anna Buchan)

I had no intention of reading this book any time soon but it sort of jumped out at me when I went up to the library to snaffle The Slaves of Solitude last week before anyone else got to it. I thought I might as well give it a go, I’m sure I saw it mentioned favourably on a blog quite recently. The book was first published in 1924 and it runs along similar lines to her earlier book Penny Plain.

Kirsty Gilmour is just 30 years old and is quite well off but for most of her life she has had to travel around with her very demanding and selfish step-mother who liked to live her life just moving from hotel to hotel. The hotels were never in Scotland because the step-mother hated that country so Kirsty hadn’t been home for 22 years. In all that time Kirsty longed to go back to Scotland, her place of birth so when her step-mother died Kirsty rented a lodge house in Muirburn, a small village in her beloved Scottish border country. It’s the first real home which she has ever had and the house goes by what I think is a wonderful name – Little Phantasy.

Kirsty’s whole life has revolved around her step-mother and she finds it difficult to live just for herself so when her elderly Aunt Fanny suddenly finds that she has to give up her own home Kirsty is delighted to offer her a room at Little Phantasy. Then Kirsty hears about three motherless Scottish children who are relatives of a friend and the poor wee things are having to spend the summer in London. Before you know it they are at Little Phantasy too and the usual servants of that time complete the household.

The children provide the humour and it’s almost exactly the same as Penny Plain really. It’s a sort of Mapp and Lucia meets Just William at a Scottish Cranford. Quite enjoyable in a way and something that you can safely recommend to any delicate souls of your acquaintance. If you enjoy Scottish settings of the early 20th century then you’ll probably like this one. The landscape is painted with real affection and becomes as important as any characters, which is usual in most fiction by Celtic writers, I think.

The title Pink Sugar comes from the pink sugar hearts which Kirsty wanted to eat as a child but she was never allowed to because it wasn’t wholesome. Ever since she has had a weakness for pink sugar.

“Surely we want every crumb of pink sugar that we can get in this world. I do hate people who sneer at sentiment. What is sentiment after all? It’s only a word, for all that is decent and kind and loving in these warped little lives of ours…”

I think from that that O. Douglas must have been condemned by reviewers for being too sentimental and she was determined to have her right of reply.

O. Douglas was John Buchan’s sister but she didn’t want to use the family name in case people thought that she was trading on his name as he was already very successfull as a writer.

The Hanging Garden by Ian Rankin

This book was first published in 1998. I must say that I didn’t enjoy this one as much as Let It Bleed. It’s a very personal storyline for DI John Rebus with his daughter being knocked down in a hit and run incident. Is it his fault given that he is involved with gangland warfare on the streets of Edinburgh?

There is also the possibility that a WWII Nazi war criminal is living in Rebus’s patch. Coupled with the fact that there are also foreign gang members from Japan and Chechnia and a young woman who is being forced to work as a prostitute in the mix too – there’s definitely a lot going on.

But somehow this one wasn’t a page turner for me although I did carry on to the end. I think I’m going to give Rebus a bit of a rest for the moment and my bedtime read is going to be Margery Allingham’s The Tiger in the Smoke, which is supposed to be her best.

Black and Blue by Ian Rankin

The blurb on the back of this book says: Rebus is juggling four cases trying to nail one killer – who just might lead back to the infamous Bible John. And he’s doing it under the scrutiny of an internal inquiry led by a man he has just accused of taking backhanders from Glasgow’s Mr Big.

I enjoyed this one too, it takes us away from Edinburgh which is Rebus’s comfort zone and has him travelling over to Glasgow and up to Aberdeen and even over to Shetland and on to an oil rig. The storyline involves the oil industry and a murderer who is going by the name of Johnny Bible, a copycat killer who is styling himself on Bible John who was a real murderer in the Glasgow area in the late 1960s. He was never caught and just ‘disappeared’ making most people believe that he had died.

Black and Blue was published in 1997 and Ian Rankin couldn’t have known that nearly 20 years later a murderer called Peter Tobin was going to kill a young Polish woman whom he knew through their Roman Catholic church – he buried her under the church floor and during the police investigations they realised that he had links to areas where young women had disapperared. Men in their 70s don’t suddenly begin a career in murder.

Tobin had moved to England and had lived at numerous locations, in the garden of one house they found the body of a Scottish teenager who had been abducted from a bus station 20 odd years before. Tobin still had a distinctive bracelet which she had worn and her father was able to identify, and what is even scarier is that Tobin apparently had lots of pieces of women’s jewellery, but he isn’t saying who it all belonged to. The body of another young woman was found at another house he had once lived in and he has been convicted of those murders too. However he claims to have killed 48 women, but won’t give any details. But there is one woman who miraculously survived a Bible John attack, and having seen photographs of Tobin which were taken in the 1960s – she is sure that Tobin is the man who attacked her and left her for dead.

The police photofit picture of Bible John was in every train when I was a 10-12 year old and it was very similar to photographs of Tobin so it would seem that Bible John didn’t die but just carried on killing in different places until he was caught by the Glasgow police as an old man.

So back to the book, Black and Blue was just a bit strange because of the recent developments in the Bible John case and also the fact that Rebus goes ‘on the wagon’ towards the end of the book and starts drinking orange juice, so no Irn Bru was required by me!