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Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Disaster averted, so More Scottish literature!

I had to get someone in India to help sort out my computer problems and apparently there were 16000 errors many of them critical, so sooner or later my laptop would have crashed!  So I sat here and watched it being fixed remotely, the cursor flashing about the screen, bringing up this page or that, clicking this line or that, hitting the buttons and obviously doing his job thoroughly!  Anyway it all seems to be working well again, and the icing on the cake was that when I clicked on the LiveWriter icon on my start page, up it popped with my previously written account of those three books I was thinking I would have to rewrite!  It cost me a fair bit to get the repairs done, but I can phone every month, or whenever I like, for another clean up and tune up.  It’s great!  Now I need to get something done about my TV!  Anyway, here’s that account of the books…..

Scotland badgeI’ve read another three books for the Read Scotland 2014 challenge set by Peggy of Peggy Ann’s Post, bringing my score so far to seven, I think.

The first was by Cecilia Peartree who lives in Edinburgh and who set her story, Crime in the Community, in a quiet unremarkable Fife village, where a group of friends enjoy a weekly social drink in the local pub, under the auspices of being a group intent on improving the facilities of the village, namely the village hall.  crime in the communityOf course nothing is actually discussed or even thought about, until the arrival of Amaryllis, a retired spy, no less, who seems intent on actually doing something to improve the rundown hall.  Why, will be revealed later in the book, but it makes no sense to the rest of the group.  To be eligible for grants the group must become official, much to the chagrin of the “members” who have quite enjoyed their unofficial meetings up till now. 

Suddenly the group is plunged into a chain of events they certainly weren’t expecting, and Amaryllis comes out of retirement to aid the group whose members – one in particular – it seems she has become rather fond of.  I won’t say any more, just that to begin with I thought this was going to be a cosy little read in the style of MC Beaton’s Hamish Macbeth or Agatha Raisin books, till the story took a more sinister turn.  reunited in deathI quite enjoyed the story and will probably read more of Ms Peartree’s books.  Although she has written other books, this is the first in a series of mysteries.  The second one is available, but it doesn’t seem to be a sequal, but a new mystery.  I have still to read it.

history of st kildaThe next book I read was The History of St Kilda, written by Kenneth MacAuley who spent some time on the main island of Hirta in 1763.  As did Donald John Gillies a century later, he describes the island group, its inhabitants, their homes, occupations, character, and religion, st kilda puffinsthe animals and bird life, etc. and speculates on the origins of the native population of whom there are at that time only 88.   May I say that none of the photos were taken by me, never having been out there yet, but my thanks goes to the various photographers who have, and took these photos.

Nothing much had changed by the time Donald John wrote his book in the next century.  st kilda ruinsHumans and animals shared the houses built of stone and thatch; cleanliness was relatively unimportant then as you can understand, so to an outsider the smell was pretty terrible.  The way of life was tough, but accepted as normal by the inhabitants whose happy and honest demeanour impressed the author.  st kilda fortHe writes about the history of the island, wondering why there should have been a fortified castle built on an island that was incredibly difficult to reach, far less land on.  There is speculation too about the name of the island group there being no specific saint by the name of Kilda, but MacAuley gives his thoughts on the matter.  (I read somewhere years ago that the words were derived from the Old Norse – sinta kelda – meaning fresh water and that the island was used as a watering hole by Scandinavian explorers in early centuries.  As there are indeed several fresh water wells on the island that would make sense to me, but our Kenneth writes his own theories at great length).

IPKat 36 - st kilda scotlandA very interesting book if you, like me, find islands, particularly this one, fascinating.  I have for years now had a visit to St Kilda on my bucket list, something I fear will never happen now, it not being the easiest destination to reach, and I not as able or agile enough to get ashore.  There are opportunities to get there, but if weather conditions are bad, which they often are, it is not always possible to get ashore, and I’m not sure I would be content with just seeing from afar. st kilda street I’d want to land, and walk the village street, st kilda women




imagine the inhabitants, at work or play, St kilda cleit historic scotlandsee and explore the cleits or little stone store houses built scattered around the hillside.by long gone St Kildians, as they were known, but who we now call St Kildans.  Take a look at this website for pictures and a short video of St Kilda.  The houses you see today are of a more recent age than Kenneth would have known, though probably not Donald John.  I think the houses of Kenneth’s day would have been more like the storehouse cleits, only bigger.  Here’s a link to another website worth exploring.

Kenneth mentioned, from time to time, a writer of St Kildian history from the previous century, a medical man by the name of Martin Martin. He implied that Mr Martin’s writings were interesting but that his book was difficult to find, so I resigned myself to not being able to read it, and resolved to read again a book I read years ago – life and death of st kildaThe Life and Death of St Kilda, by Tom Steel, a more recent history of the island group, bringing the story up to date.  The library didn’t have a copy but there was one in Kelso which they could have sent up to Peebles.  However I opted to buy a kindle copy, and in looking it up on Amazon, what else should I see butvoyage to st kilda Martin Martin’s A voyage to St Kilda, republished in 2011.  So not only did I buy Tom Steel’s book but this one too.  A Voyage to St Kilda has only eight chapters so is quickly read, and I found his style of writing to be much more entertaining than that of  the two more learned gentlemen previously read. Martin’s book was written in 1697, and takes us back further into the mists of time, and more into the psyche of the people.

Martin, himself from one of the western isles of Scotland, begins his story with the disclosure that he has been careful to relate only what he himself experienced or that he was told by the St Kildans.  He knows he can trust them with the truth as they were particularly unaware of lies and deceit.  The Voyage to St Kilda begins with just that – the journey across the Atlantic Ocean from Harris in an open boat, through a storm, being blown off course, and finally following flocks of birds they reckoned were bound for St Kilda themselves.  Then there was the difficulty of landing due to the heavy sea st kilda gannetsand the problem of there being so many gannets – solan geese – flying above them.  It took two days before the crew managed to row the boat into the bay.

From the start Martin found the St Kildians very friendly and hospitable.  He observes their poor dwellings made of stone with a rough thatch having to be anchored by rope and stone weights to prevent the winds blowing the thatch away.  He describes extremely well the village’s location and orientation, its weather, a little of its geology, and some history going back a further 100 years.  Every subject that can be associated with the islands and its inhabitants has been well observed by Martin, and he writes clearly about his observations.  To say that there was not much difference in the St Kildian way of life over two hundred years may not be surprising, but that is fact.  The only unusual event was an earthquake in 1686 which shook the island for a few minutes, amazing and probably terrifying the population.

I enjoyed reading this book more than the other two mostly because it is simple and includes some humour.  Martin is probably not a particularly learned fellow but is a keen and curious observer.  life and death of st kildaHis writing style is easier, and very descriptive.

So my next read will bring the St Kilda story up to the 20th century.  The Life and Death of St Kilda.  Sad stuff ahead, but modern day living caught up with the island eventually.

Talk again soon.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Disaster strikes

I spent most of yesterday afternoon writing about the four most recent books I've been reading for The Read Scotland 2014 challenge set by Peggy of Peggy Ann's Post, and was looking for pictures to add when all of a sudden the software I compose on just disappeared.  I went back to the desktop to try to reopen the program but nothing happened.  Having tried to restore the post I had written, I think the only thing I can do is reinstall the software and start again.

 I'll write about the books next time.
Talk again soon.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Looking back

My sister told me the other day,  just as she was getting on the bus to go home after a visit, that I should get on with writing my blog as she was fed up looking at the same blog entry all the time, so today I am going to look back….. to before Christmas, when I went round the Christmas market in Edinburgh.  Jean and I had met in the city, basically to exchange Christmas presents and have lunch, then go to the Christmas market in Princes Street Gardens (named for the sons of George III), which was right opposite where Jean had chosen for our lunch.  

EH christmas marketWe had an excellent view of the Old Town of Edinburgh, with the hill, Arthur Seat, behind, and the market with the Big Wheel dominating the foreground.  I really EH stallsfancied a ride on it, especially as this new wheel had pods rather than ski tow type chairs as on the last one.  After lunch Jean had to get her bus home to East Lothian, so I was left on my own to wander round the stalls and try out the Big Wheel.  Daylight is in short supply in the middle of winter, so already in early afternoon the fairy lights were lit around the stalls.  It all looked very festive.

EH gardens and gallery

EH wheelThe wheel came to a stop and the queue of new passengers, including me, climbed into the little red pods and were soon floating up over the gardens looking down on the sights below: the art gallery in the mid background, and part of the castle rock beyondEH from  the top, and in the opposite direction, the Scott monument,  Princes Street and the city centre shops,  the Waverley Market  and the railway station, the North Bridge and Calton Hill…..

Strangely when I was looking at a friend’s photos some days later she showed me a beautiful two tiered carousel which she said was right next to the Big Wheel.  I hadn’t seen it, I told her, and the photo above, looking down on a square of stalls seems to prove it!   I think it had to have been moved from that position between her visit and mine, otherwise I would have photographed it too.  I photographed just about everything else!!! 

After several revolutions of the wheel, during which it grew steadily darker, we had had our turn, and returned to earth.   EH food stallThe food stalls were bustling with people wanting to taste the various products on offer  – doughnuts and chai-latte, among the goodies on offer here.  The cook had his chef’s hat on over his hood, keeping his ears from the cold nip of the winter air. 

EH skatingNearby was the skating rink, with plenty of youngsters and their parents willing to brave the iceEH skating2.



As I wandered through the stalls I found so many beautiful things for sale…EH candles

candles;EH felts felted slippers;

EH log nativity

nativity scenes;EH nativity

wooden toys;EH puzzles

EH nutccrackers

and puzzles;

EH stallChristmas ornaments;EH twirly dekkies

EH painted dishes

beautifully decorated wooden bowls; handmade gifts like this cat cushion;EH cushion

EH stall3





EH stall2

more decorations and snow globes….  Everything was there!  By now it was quite dark and lights were on all over the city.  Though I don’t have a good camera for taking night shots I managed to get a couple that weren’t so terrible…the Old Town stretching from the castle down the ridge of the Royal MileEH old townEH lights

and across Princes Street Gardens to the Balmoral Hotel, once the North British, at the East End, as far as the lights of the Big Wheel. 

EH big wheelIt was getting quite cold by this time so after a final photo or two, I made for the bus out of the city to pick up my car and head for home.P1060731  It had been a very pleasant afternoon!

Talk again soon.

Monday, 10 February 2014

More books for “Read Scotland 2014”

Scotland badge

Sorry, sorry, sorry!  Once again I’ve been neglecting you!  I should organise my time better, but I’ll tell you what I’ve been up to later on.  So, back to Read Scotland 2014 , the challenge for which I have pledged to read upwards of 12 books in 2014, about Scotland, by Scots or people living in Scotland, set in Scotland….  you get the idea.  The challenge was set by Peggy of Peggy Ann’s Post and you can read about it by clicking the logo.  Well I’ve read a few more books since I last blogged, Kate Atkinson’s “Human Croquet” which I found quite odd, “Prisoner of St Kilda” by Margaret MacAuley, and “A history of the Parish of Collace” by the community itself.

Human CroquetHuman Croquet is the story of Isobel and her weird family (acne-scarred brother Charles, Aunt Vinnie with the crab apple face,  and grandmother the Widow.  There’s also a weird lodger, Mr Rice, (though why, I don’t really know), after the disappearance of firstly her mother and then her father.  Once there had been a great forest where now is the housing estate known as the Streets of Trees.  Isobel seems to be able to go back in time, though what this actually has to do with the story I didn’t figure out at all.  It all seems disjointed to me.  The children know that their mother is dead, though they seem to have forgotten they covered her body with piles of autumn leaves in what remained of the old forest.  Her father Charles turns up again after 7 years, having been in New Zealand, believing he killed his wife.  He brings with him his new wife, the not very bright Debbie, and family life returns.  Not your ordinary family life, but in the end riddles are solved.  That’s all I’ll say, but if anyone can tell me why this book is “story telling at its buoyant best” – the Scotsman, “brilliant and engrossing” – the Evening Standard, and “hilarious and frightening by turns” – the Observer, please let me know!  I’m obviously a bit dim!

The prisoner of St KildaI had been looking forward for a few years to reading The Prisoner of St Kilda, but when I finally got round to opening the book I found that far from being the novel I was expecting, it was a historical account of Rachel, Lady Grange, who, being a termagent, threatened her husband that she would reveal his Jacobite leanings in an attempt to get him to leave his London lover, Fanny. In due course Rachel was abducted and taken out of harm’s way, to spend thirteen miserable years on the Island of St Kilda, a prisoner of her husband’s making, living in nothing more than a hovel.  It would be interesting to know what the St Kildans made of this Edinburgh lady, but in fact there is very little description of her enforced way of life on the island.  Most of the book surrounds the politics of the day concerning the Granges and several people connected with the story, and who was for or against Lady Grange and, indeed, also her husband.  I get a bit glassy-eyed when faced with a book like this, but I read on hoping for a transcript of the few letters that Rachel managed to send from her incarceration.  That did not happen till the very last pages of the book, among the Appendices, which also include a couple of pages about the “Law and Marriage” at that time.  Scottish Law, being different from English law (even today) would have looked more favourably on Lady Grange’s early situation than English.  It seems there was a degree of equality of the sexes even in the 18th century as adultery was grounds for divorce in Scotland regardless of the gender of the adulterer.  In England a woman could be divorced by her husband if she committed adultery, but a man committing the same offence was seen to have regrettably erred!  I digress!

There is only one letter transcribed which only tells of Lady Grange’s abduction and how she was treated on her journey to St Kilda.  The only reference she makes to the island is that it is a “vile nasty stinking poor isle.  I was in great misery in Husker (one of the places on route to St Kilda) but I am ten times worse and worse here”.

The whole saga is a sad and tragic tale, which has spread over the centuries, and MacAuley has researched much to produce this book.  Personally from my point of view I had hoped to read about life on St Kilda in the 18th century but for that I must continue reading another MacAuley’s “History of St Kilda”.  history of st kKenneth MacAuley visited the islands in 1763 not so very long after Lady Grange’s time, and described what he saw there.  I will write more of that another day.

kinrossie 1900My fourth Read Scotland book was a small history of the Parish of Collace (emphasis on LACE) where my Kinmont ancestors came from.  It covers the main villages of Kinrossie above, collace 1900Collace right, and Kirkton of Collace, and describes various aspects of the development of the parish.  Quite interesting, though most of the book centred on more recent times.  No ancestors mentioned but I still enjoyed reading about where they had lived.

Something more on the places I’ve been over the last month or so, next time.

Talk again soon.