Monthly Archives: February 2014

The deposit

I found my thoughts straying to Seacrow Island the other day. About how handy it would be to be able to put down a 10p deposit on a house, because you’re a nice person and the house owner is another nice person. And you can afford it because you didn’t have that third ice cream, leaving you with 10p for those unexpected needs.

Hands up, if you know what I am talking about! Do you know your Seacrow Island? Any Swede my age, and quite possibly every generation since, knows Saltkråkan very, very well. That’s the book by Astrid Lindgren which started life as a television series, and that’s how we all know it. And because it’s a symbol of everything that is Swedish. And because it’s repeated on television every year, or so it seems.


At the end of a wonderful summer on an island in the Stockholm archipelago, Pelle – a boy of seven or eight – finds himself at a loose end on the mainland, while his father Melker and his two older brothers are running around town trying to find an estate agent. The house they have rented and fallen in love with, is to be sold to some rich man who wants to flatten it and build a new, grand ‘bungalow.’ A last minute windfall means that Melker is ‘in the running’ to buy the house as well. If he can get there first.

Pelle and his friend Tjorven spend some of their money on ice cream. Then they have a second ice cream each. When Tjorven – hopefully – raises the question of a third ice cream, Pelle says it’s good to save some money for a rainy day. And then they set out to find the owner of the house. After climbing onto the balcony where the old lady is dozing, they tell her everything.

When the estate agent and the rich man, with Melker close on their heels, arrive at Mrs Sjöblom’s, it turns out they are too late. The house has already been sold. The rich man is furious and Melker cries. At least until it is explained to him that it is Pelle who has put his last krona as down payment for their holiday paradise.

What’s more, it was Tjorven who earned that money from the rich man for tying up his boat so expertly. He should learn not to tip the natives…

The Lewis Chessmen

I was about to say I don’t reckon I’ve seen the Lewis Chessmen in real life, but in my younger museum-going days I looked at lots of things without retaining a great deal of memory. (In one eye, out the other?) So I might well have said hello to them.

If not, I have now, through a book. The British Museum is re-issuing Irving Finkel’s The Lewis Chessmen and what happened to them. Great illustrations from Clive Hodgson shows you the Queens braiding their hair, and chess people drinking and having fun.

And fun is what this is. To be honest, I didn’t expect it.

Irving Finkel and Clive Hodgson, The Lewis Chessmen

Irving is telling the tale of these chess pieces from back when they were hibernating on Lewis and were found by a cow, and soon after by a fisherman. Then follows a trail of the Lewis Chessmen’s travels all over the place. They kept being sold, until they ended up in The British Museum in 1831.

Well, most of them did. They had to suffer the agony of separation, and across marriage vows at that. It wasn’t until 1993 that some Queens and Kings were temporarily reunited, when they were able to ‘visit’ for a few months. (They had a lot to talk about.)

This is a terrific way to sell history and ‘boring old museum exhibits’ to people like me. I believe the book was mainly intended for children, and I hope loads of them get to take a copy home from the museum shop. You could do a lot worse.

(And afterwards I suggest you have a go with Francesca Simon’s version.)

Changing genres

I disappointed a young reader the other week. I wish I hadn’t. Not that I think this reader will give up reading, but still.

There’s a writer whom we shall call Edward Litteless. He is very popular with his fans, and I’m not surprised. I’ve read the first books in a couple of his thriller style series, and while I personally have no need to read more, I can fully see why young people – and especially boys – love these books.

So when Wirral Boy’s mother made expectant noises online regarding Edward’s new series, I had a great idea. I would ask Wirral Boy to read and review it for me, as he’d be able to give it full justice.

Except, WB hated it so much he didn’t even finish the book. WB’s mother soldiered on, because she’s an adult and she felt I deserved the review I’d asked for. But she hated it too.

The thing is, I don’t like posting bad reviews, so she might as well not have persevered to the bitter end. What I don’t know, is if the book is not as well written as the others, or if it is merely this complete change of genre that went wrong for our fervent fan. It can’t have been only genre, though, or he would have expected to have no interest in the new series. I sometimes feel like that, and while it’s a valid opinion to have, giving something new a chance seems fair.

There’s another thing here I feel uncomfortable about. The review copies of Edward’s last two books have arrived with ‘contracts’ that I have no wish to have anything to do with. By default it is assumed I will adhere to the rules, which seems to be not only not to share with anyone, but to make no mention at all before publication date.

If you’re not writing Harry Potter, I think this is OTT. If people don’t trust me to handle advance copies; then don’t send them to me. In this case I broke the contract I’d not agreed to, by letting WB read the book. I saw it as me sub-contracting the work, in order to get a lovely review. That backfired.

My other problem is I chucked the press release and the contract and I have only my own memory of the date the book is published. Being vaguely fearful of getting it wrong, I double checked online. I found two dates in February. I found no date at all. There was a date back in 2013, and one for autumn 2014. Edward’s own website seemed not to mention it at all.

Apologies for any breach of contract. I meant well. And that’s why I have used a pseudonym for Edward. The date I’ve chosen came from throwing a dart at February and picking a day at random.

On not reading

What should a bookwitch do when she doesn’t feel like reading? Or up to reading?

Reading is for me the last thing to go. Usually. Hoovering and cleaning your teeth (ew) are easy to not do. If I feel off-colour and decide to take the day off, reading tends to be what I choose to do. If bed rest isn’t required, sitting somewhere comfortable with a book is about the best occupation for a witch.

I generally justify any slacking by telling myself that at least I will get through a lot of books, which is both useful and enjoyable.

But I have to admit to having stared at my books in recent weeks, and felt too tired, and simply continued to sit there, doing nothing. Doing nothing has been pretty much flavour of the month. Very restful.

I have read. Just not much. And I’ve been reading ahead, which means that there isn’t necessarily a blog post in it. Yet, anyway.

My current book seems promising, so I’m thinking I can fill some hours on the train over the next couple of days by reading. (I’m not travelling home with Muriel! I sent her back with the Resident IT Consultant.)


Have you any idea how hard it can be chasing someone across Dobbies’ car park, carrying a saxophone case? With a sax in it. And a bag of books.

There were no more houses on Sunday, but the desired sleeping in didn’t happen. In a burst of wanting to do the right thing, I even went for a walk in the park. It was sunny and rather nice. Typical Scotland in February.

The Grandmother was driven away (so to speak) by the Resident IT Consultant, and brought back by Aunt Blane. She’d come to swap jigsaw puzzle boards. She brought her empty one and took away the Grandmother’s, which held a half made, very difficult to do, jigsaw. Aunt Blane wished to complete it at home, so the Resident IT Consultant balanced the whole thing down the stairs for her.

They’re crazy in that family.

With no more houses to go see, I’d arranged to take tea with Helen Grant. One of these days she’ll know to say no. She brought Miss Grant, who couldn’t resist the lure of cake. Good thing, as we were facing dealing with laden tea trays while manouvering the saxophone and the books through the café. It was a case of child labour again. She sagged under the weight of it all, while we sailed on with our trays. But she was rewarded with cake.

Miss Grant is a properly brought up young person, so once the hot chocolate had been slurped, she sat reading a book. Us oldies gossiped about the publishing industry and books in general. There might have been some mention of taking American tourists on muddy and dark tours through Perthshire’s graveyards, but I wouldn’t count on it if I were you.

Holy Rude, Stirling

Cuidado con el perro

That’s when I pushed the Resident IT Consultant forward. If there was going to be any biting by dogs, I didn’t want to be first through the door. Luckily my Spanish was there to warn me. Although, as it turned out, the doggy had been banished to the car. We stopped on our way out and Daughter teased it, a little. I suppose she felt safe enough with a bit of car in between.

So, day two of house speed-dating, or whatever you should call it. I can assure you that by the end of the day the Resident IT Consultant’s head was reeling, and he needed gentle guidance on where which toilet was, and that if the bedroom dimensions seemed small, that’s because it was a bathroom.

Eaves. I still don’t get why a steeper sloping roof has bigger eaves. It ought to be the other way round.

As you may have gathered, Daughter joined us for the day. She wasn’t in the slightest impressed by the estate agent who jokingly placed her in the boxroom, next to those eaves. But she did open all under stairs cupboards and make Harry Potter jokes. And, she felt the doggy property was straight out of Privet Drive.

I began the day by putting my boots on (well, I obviously had breakfast and things first first) and as I did so, the thought that I’d prefer not to have to take them off during the day, on account of them being difficult to put on, crossed my mind. That was before I discovered I had a 50p piece in my left boot so it had to come off again. But you will not be surprised to find that two house owners were of the take-your-shoes-off persuasion. Not that we did, but still. It was one of those witchy thoughts I get. Obviously, if I’d found more money in my boots, I would ‘happily’ have removed them. (This is Scotland. How much money can a witch expect to encounter inside her footwear?)

If we were proper people who kept up with all manner of normal stuff, we’d most likely have recognised one house vendor. As he opened a cupboard, which happened to be full of books (weird place to keep your books; as though they are an embarrassment) I noticed a pile of ten or so, new, pristine books, spine out, bearing his name. I refrained from asking if he was an author (which was very lucky), and went on admiring the house.

The silver shoe in the kitchen should have been a clue. We just thought it was an unusual taste in trinkets, but it seems it’s a trophy of the kind a successful football player might get. Because that’s what he was. Anyone normal would probably have said ‘don’t I recognise you?’

We gate-crashed one house viewing and sneaked around in the garden of another. We are fairly sure what we would like. We just can’t act on it yet. And when we can, it’s bound to be too late.

But at least we now have a spreadsheet listing the number of bathrooms and the distance to Lidl…

Love those houses

Still in Valentine mode, I could mention houses to fall in love with. No, I lie, I’m not into Valentine at all, but you need to be ‘topical.’

We saw some nice houses yesterday. It could have been love. Who knows?

And I’m reminded of the rather well preserved 1930s house the Resident IT Consultant and I visited at the beginning of time, or soon afterwards. It belonged to his former English teacher, and right now I’d be very happy to buy it, were it for sale. That was the occasion when I was given a lovely old copy of that wonderful teen romance, Daddy-Long-Legs.

Speaking of history, it’s what the Resident IT Consultant served up in one of the houses we looked at. It happened to be right behind the house he grew up in. Mere yards – I mean metres – from the corner of their garden, where he slept in a box in a caravan, while the house was being built. I’m not up to primitive stuff like that. And at least he didn’t claim to have walked barefoot to school. Even if he did.

We’ll look at some more houses today, but I’m sure they can’t beat yesterday’s. Although, I suppose it’d be good if they did. It would mean there’s plenty of good prospective Bookwitch Towers out there.

I have to own up to having built custom made bookcases (in my mind) in every house we viewed. Some were better than others. Could I fall for a house that doesn’t have good walls for books?

I’ll keep you posted.