Exploring Berwick

We broke our journey home from Scotland at Berwick-Upon-Tweed.  It is one of those places through which we have passed many times on the train and we thought it was about time we actually had a look around.

We stayed at the King’s Arms which for me was primarily notable for the fact that Charles Dickens had stayed there and had even given a reading in the ballroom.  I was delighted by the Dickens coffee lounge but sadly disapppointed to find that it was not open when we wanted it.  That didn’t stop me having a quick read though!

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We spent pretty much the entire day walking around the old town walls which were so interesting.   I love exploring historical sites and there is so much history there.  I was just a bit sad that we could not get to more of the castle.

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The museum at the barracks was also very good.  I particularly liked the rooms set aside for the King’s Own Scottish Borderers Regimental Museum.  I found it incredibly moving and actually ended up feeling rather overwhelmed – which wasn’t helped by the fact that I am scared of mannequins.  It was a fantastic museum though and I would highly recommend a visit.

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I had a great time discovering the history of Berwick and I could easily have spent more time there.  We did however manage to squeeze in a short boat trip which rounded the day off nicely.

Double Booking

I was really disappointed last week when my love of horses (see Gadding About with Galahad) meant I was taking part in a show jumping competition when I had been booked to see an outdoor production of Lorna Doone.

Luckily my Mother offered to do a guest blog for me.

We were very sad that Eleanor couldn’t go with us but we enjoyed ourselves nonetheless.

This was an opportunity to see a proper story retold in its native habitat. Lorna Doone was written by R D Blackmore and is set on Exmoor. The play was performed in the Valley of the Rocks, a site on Exmoor with the added attraction of the Bristol Channel as a backdrop.

The story has been well adapted by Helena Stafford Northcote for Pleasure Dome Theatre and performed to celebrate the 150th anniversary of its publication. Narrative sections were provided by actors striding down aisles and across the ‘stage’ speaking one line each which added urgency to the story. The rough terrain provided natural opportunities for various cameo scenes including throwing a baby into te sea, a discreet killing and the final denouement of the play as Carver Doone fell over the cliff.

It was wonderful to see this Exmoor story brought to life in such rugged scenery and watching the Doones advancing waist deep in bracken sent shivers down the spine. As dusk fell, the lights of Wales appeared over the sea adding a final magic to the story. The setting was wild and rugged but, dare I say it, that very naturalness created a rival to the manicured and concrete Minack. A far better place to bring the story of Lorna and John to life.

Sorry Eleanor. You missed a wonderful evening.

I was very sorry to miss what sounded like an excellent production. I have been wanting to see a play in the Valley o the Rocks for several years and was very much looking forward to it. I will have to make sure that I get there next year.

Scottish Bookshopping

I couldn’t leave Pitlochry without visiting the bookshops there.  In fact, I doubt if I’ve ever been on holiday without buying a book!

My first stop was the Station Bookshop – opening off the main platform at the railway station.  This was a lovely little warren of a shop with a huge mixture of titles.  It is a charity bookshop so the books are donated but it had a great range and I found several books I wanted to buy – including a box set of PG Wodehouse which I would have loved but getting it home would have been tricky.

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In the end, I picked two lovely, old editions of Walter Scott – The Abbot and Kenilworth. They were both inscribed to the same person, although they were given by different people.  I thought them a perfect souvenir of my trip.

I also visited Priory Books.  I had been hoping to find an easy history of the Jacobite rebellions but everything was either very detailed or too simple.  In the end I spied something entirely different – Fiesta for Wild One, a book in the Kit Hunter series by Peter Grey which I love.

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The tourist information office supplied me with a basic children’s history of Scotland which I found to have the perfect level of information for me.  Then a few days later we made a brief stop in Aviemore and the Waterstones there had Jacobite Stories by Dane Love which was even better.  I read it all the way home!

Reading Waverley in Scotland

I have carried Waverley around Scotland with me on two previous occassions without reading a word of it. I had the best of intentions but somehow I always wanted to read a different book which would be easier – who wants to work on holiday?

This time though, I was determined. Scotland was clearly the place to read it so read it I would. I made sure I wasn’t partway through any other books and started Waverley on the very first train. Within a few pages I knew that it was not going to be hard work after all.

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Of course, I had to read it by the Scott Monument!

The only other Scott book I had read was Ivanhoe many years ago. I remember enjoying it but not much else and I had got it into my head that he would be difficult and rather slow reading. Instead, I was swept along by the story and I absolutely loved it.

I also found that it was genuinely funny. Who can resist a line like this in the last chapter?

This should have been a prefatory chapter, but for two reasons: First, that most novel-readers, as my own conscience reminds me, are apt to be guilty of the sin of omission respecting that same matter of prefaces.

I so rarely read prefaces!

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I am sorry I never read the book before but very glad I finally took the time to do so. Reading it in Perthshire was especially wonderful – a good deal of the book is set there so I could really picture it coming to life. It was perfect!

Outdoor Theatre Take Two

What a difference a couple of days make!  Two days after the Midsummer Night’s Dream performance I was back outside to see Heartbreak Production’s Private Lives.

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We were in another beautiful location but this time we had steady, heavy rain for almost the entire show.  It only really stopped right at the very end – the complete opposite of the last performance.  We were very British though and hunkered down in our waterproofs to enjoy the show.  I also copied the lady in front and kept my umbrella over my knees which worked brilliantly.

 

I had never seen Private Lives before and I didn’t really know the plot either.  Except that a some point somebody would be wearing pyjamas!

I loved the play.  We get so few opportunities to see real, proper plays that I leap at every chance I get and I revel in the intellectual experience.  It was quite intellectual too – Private Lives is not very plot driven but is all about the conversation so you really have to listen.  It was excellent.

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The only things which jarred somewhat were the extra little scenes involving the hotel staff which the company had added in.  I didn’t really understand what they were trying to achieve and I would rather have just had the play.

 

However, I still very much enjoyed myself and, as I said, it was wonderful to have the opportunity to see the play.  The rain didn’t damp our spirits and, although it put us off eating much, our picnic became a lovely after theatre supper when we got home!

Summer Fête Delights

On Saturday I took my book stall out for its first outing of the year. Previously I have always had it within a larger marquee or room full of other stands. This time I didn’t have that option so I had my own little gazebo to set up. I had tried a practice run at home and was quite excited about having a space to myself which I could make cosy and just how I wanted it.

We had to arrive early as we had some entries to set up in the craft classes and as it was a reasonable drive I decided to stay and start setting up. For one thing, I didn’t really know how long it would take me with the new gazebo.

That turned out to be a great decision. It was so much more relaxing to have a leisurely set up process instead of rushing and getting stressed. I have been known to get so wound up when short of time that I have actually been unable to remember the alphabet. That was not a fun experience and this was far more enjoyable.

Even better was that fact that my sister lives close to the fête and kept us constantly supplied with tea and cakes. Such a luxury!

Once I was all set up I had nothing to do but sit in the shade and read until the fête opened. It was a lovely, sunny day and even when the crowds started arriving it just meant that I could talk to more people about books – which is after all the point of having the stall in the first place. That and selling some of the books of course!

It was a delightful afternoon. There cannot be many better ways to spend time than sat on the grass with a book, good conversation and listening to music from a Dixieland band. Bliss!

Celebrating Stories

The main reason for my Scotland trip was to stay in Pitlochry for the festival theatre there.  I love going to the theatre but – at least locally – we don’t seem to get many proper plays so I was very much looking forward to my trip.

The theatre famously states that you can, ‘Stay six days, see six plays.’  We were a little early in the season for that but I still had a choice of four.  I decided against The Crucible as it traumatised me when I had to study it at school.  Watching Jo March (Winona Ryder) playing Abigail Williams in the film was just too disturbing for me!

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The theatre has the best views

That still left me with a choice of three shows though.  The first I went to see was Blonde Bombshells of 1943, which tells the story of Betty – a band leader whose band has landed a BBC performance just when she has lost half her players.  The auditions and rehearsals were so entertaining and it was a great show.  I especially enjoyed the performance of Tilly-Mae Millbrook who played Miranda.

Next I saw Blithe Spirit – a story I know very well as I have seen the film several times.  This was my favourite of the week  – a real classic play.  I loved Eddie – played by David Rankine – a different take on the maid character.

Finally, I went to see Summer Holiday which was of course a lot of fun.  It was a bit too noisy for me but that is the case for any musical.  I enjoyed myself but it reinforced something which really I already knew – for me, plays are the thing.

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I’ve never had the opportunity to see repertory theatre before and I loved being able to watch the same people play different characters through the week.  They really did change, which just shows what great actors they are.

I had the best time – a whole week immersed in stories was just wonderful.  I do so enjoy the theatre and I must make the effort to get to more plays – even if I have to travel a bit further to get there.

Literary Edinburgh

I have recently been spending some time in Scotland, a place which I love.  I stopped off on the way up to spend the day in Edinburgh and I had a great time soaking up the culture.

My first stop had to be the Scott Memorial.  It really stands out on the skyline and as I was reading Waverley at the time I couldn’t not pay it a visit.  There is a little café in the park there which I found was the perfect spot for breakfast.

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I had a lovely time wandering through the streets before moving on to the National Library of Scotland.  Unfortunately the main exhibition was closed due to technical problems with the lighting but I did get to see a small display of letters and manuscripts relating to the publication of Byron’s Don Juan.  It was wonderful to see and I was especially fascinated by the proof copies annotated with Byron’s corrections.

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I loved this staircase at the National Library of Scotland!

By then it was lunchtime.  I was meeting an old university friend and we had a lovely catch up before going on to the Writers’ Museum.  I had been so looking forward to this and I was not disappointed.  I had actually been before but not for several years and even then it was just a flying visit.  This time I could really take everything in, although we still had to be kicked out at closing time!

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If I lived here I would have to have that little tower room!

The museum mostly focuses on Robert Burns, Robert Louis Stevenson and Sir Walter Scott.  Obviously, as I was reading Waverley, I was excited about seeing the Scott displays.  I was especially moved by his rocking horse – with uneven steps for his feet as he had polio as a child.

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I was also fascinated by the Stevenson displays.  He lived such an interesting life all over the world, although sadly that was mainly due to his ongoing ill health.  Last year I read an excellent book by Joseph Farrell about Stevenson’s time in Samoa so I loved seeing some of his belongings too.

The Burns exhibition was also great, although I am perhaps less familiar with his work.  I’m afraid that I also came away with the impression that he was the least likeable of the three men!

Having left the museum I had half an hour to spare before my train left, which gave me just enough time for a very fleeting visit to The Fruitmarket Gallery.  I had seen the title of their current exhibition – The Annotated Reader – as I passed in the morning and naturally I was intrigued.  It hadn’t been open then but was now so I sacrificed my chance of a cup of tea and dived in.

The creators of the exhibition – Ryan Gander and Jonathan P Watts – had asked a whole range of people to annotate a page from the book they would choose to have with them if they had missed the last train home.  Those pages were hung from the walls around the gallery and visitors were positively encouraged to take them home.  I found the whole idea fascinating, picked up several pages for myself and would have loved to be able to spend more time there.

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Catching my train north I learnt both that Edinburgh Waverley is the only railway station in the world named after a novel and the there is such a thing as a UNESCO city of literature.  I had no idea that was a thing but I thoroughly approve and would love to find some more!

I had the most fantastic day – I couldn’t live in a city but I do enjoy my occassional trips.  I love discovering literary and other cultural places to visit and I always come away feeling inspired to write and to read everything.

Reading Spot

Many people have a special reading spot to sit with a book but I never have.  Not that I have nowhere to read – far from it.  Of course, I do have my hammock chair where I love to sit and read but it is not my designated spot.  I will read anywhere and everywhere.

It’s part of the reason I take a book with me everywhere.  You never know when you might have a spare five minutes which could be filled with valuable reading time.  Waiting for a train, a tea break at work, anything is possible.

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This is Moor at 13 in Kingswear, just across the river from Dartmouth. It is a lovely place with the most amazing view!

One of my favourite things to do though is take myself out to a coffee shop, order a hot drink (and maybe a cake) and just sit by myself and read.  It is wonderful.

The Joys of Listening

Audio books have been a major part of my life for as long as I can remember.  As a child I used to have my bedtime story read to me by my parents but then I loved to listen to story tapes as I fell asleep.  I still sometimes do that to this day, although I tend to fall asleep a lot faster these days.  Sleep timers are a wonderful invention.

Mostly though, I listen to them when I am doing something which would normally mean I couldn’t read.  Like driving – it is frowned upon to read a physical book behind the wheel!  Audio books definitely make the journey more interesting.

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I recently discovered the Libby app at my library which allows me to borrow audio books (and e-books if I want them) and download them onto my phone.  It has revolutionised my listening and I have found books I had never heard of before.  Since I got the app I have been listening to a huge number of cosy crime books – specifically the Needlecraft Mysteries by Monica Ferris and the Booktown Mysteries by Lorna Barrett.  I have been devouring them and loving every minute.  I am not alone either – the newest Booktown Mystery has a six month waiting list!  It is wonderful to see any form of library so well used.