Category Archives: History

Black Water

Occasionally you encounter something you never knew you’d want to know about. For instance this business of smuggling in Dumfries in the late 18th century. Even if it features Robert Burns, and it’s based on real events.

Barbara Henderson, Black Water

Barbara Henderson has written Black Water, a novella on the subject of smuggling, which is both interesting and exciting. The main character is 13-year-old Henry who sometimes gets to go out and help his Exciseman father.

Set mostly in and around the sea in February 1792 it’s mostly cold and wet, and there is little prospect of drying out when there are smugglers to be caught and the locals are on the ‘wrong’ side and not helping.

Henry is a good boy, except with figures, and he works as hard as the grown men he rides out with. He also seems to have found out some truths about the local people that his father is unaware of.

As a law-abiding witch I wanted to be on the side of the Excisemen – and they include Robert Burns – but like Henry I can see that the other side also has a point.

And then there is poetry.

This is the kind of book that has it all, being an easy read that both educates and entertains.

The second leaflet

And then I found myself searching the floor plan of the Stephen A Schwarzman Building for the Mark Twain Room. When I didn’t find it, I looked again at the second library leaflet the Resident IT Consultant brought.

Ah, Mark Twain’s room would be in Buffalo. Obviously. I’m no Twain expert, but I gather he had important, if brief, ties to Buffalo.

He gave them half the manuscript of Huckleberry Finn, having lost the other half. The remaining pages were discovered in a trunk in California a hundred years later, the way things always are.

I’m neither interested nor not interested in lost manuscripts, or in Huck Finn, but it makes for fascinating reading anyway.

I began wondering what I’d think of Tom Sawyer or Huck if I were to reread them now. Are they still my kind of book, or was that mainly when I was very young, and had rather fewer books to read?

When I was eleven, I was given a prize at school, which was The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, in English. It was presumably because I was good at English, and it was this that was being rewarded. But I was never good enough to read Mark Twain in the original. I often thought I’d try, but never did. Besides, I’d already read the story in translation.

Which in itself helps determine at what age one used to read classics before Harry Potter. I’d not put Huckleberry Finn into the hands of a pre-eleven child today. Whether that’s wrong of me I have no idea.

Leaflets

He likes leaflets, and brings many of them home. So it’s not surprising that the Resident IT Consultant’s recent travels meant he brought quite a few of the things here, and now they sit on the dining table. He did say that he thought I’d be interested in some of them, but that after reading I could get rid of them if I wanted to.

Note that there wasn’t an option of not reading, and putting them in the recycling immediately.

I found the two library ones interesting, and far more so than the menu from the Indian restaurant in Montreal.

The Stephen A Schwarzman Building on New York’s Fifth Avenue is a lovely looking place. I’d like it even without the books, because I like buildings in general. I would love to have it as my local library.

But looking at it via the leaflet will have to do. I mostly can’t determine the scale of it. The floor plans seem modest, but then the photos of the individual rooms make them look huge, so I am guessing it’s like much in America; it’s really large.

I hope and pray it will remain a library for many years to come, even though – or do I mean especially because? – they have a real stuffed Winnie-the-Pooh.

Kästner’s streets

The Resident IT Consultant likes his maps, and when Berlin became a reality in our lives, he reread Erich Kästner. He really wanted to know where it was that Emil went when he got to Berlin, arriving at Zoologischer Garten station.

Well, he got on the 177 tram, which took Emil down Kaiser Avenue. Using his little grey cells, the Resident IT Consultant worked out that this might well be the current Bundesallee. From there Emil turned into Trautenau Street, which led to Nicholas Square, the Nikolsburger Platz.

So there’s the issue with names having been translated, plus the small complication of Germany having changed since Emil’s days. Though there are Kaiser-based names; just no longer for this large street leading south from the station opposite the Zoo.

It helped [me] that this was practically where Daughter and I had stayed in the Spring. Also that it’s close to the Swedish Church. (Well, we all have our priorities.)

Interestingly this whole area is close to where Daughter has found her kitchen-less flat to live in. So I may come to wander Emil’s streets before long.

On the other hand, my attempts at finding which street might go with no. 67, where Lisa Tetzner’s children lived, have not been successful. Perhaps she made it up?

A Shot in the Dark

How quickly time passes! Lynne Truss set her crime novel – featuring the best of Brighton’s landmarks – in 1957, making it somewhat historical and retro. But my mind boggles as I realise that I first set foot in Brighton a mere twenty years later, and moved away ten years later still. That almost makes me retro as well.

Lynne Truss, A Shot in the Dark

It’s amusing to find the streets and squares of Brighton in the names of the characters; Old Steine, Brunswick Square, and little Twitten, not forgetting Groynes, Palmeira and Adelaide.

Inspector Steine is an idiot. Sergeant Brunswick so-so, while young Constable Twitten doesn’t miss much, unless it’s social cues. What I don’t know is how long it would have taken me to know who the villain was, has Lynne not actually talked about that at her Bloody Scotland event. Was it very obvious, or just a bit obvious?

Whatever. It’s an entertaining story, poking fun at old-style crimes and old-style policemen, with a dash of Brighton Rock thrown in.

After the Bloody Scotland ‘cosy’ discussion about swearing and authenticity I couldn’t relax, but had to look for discrepancies. I always do this. There was much swearing for a ‘no-swearing’ book. And it’s never easy knowing what life was like around the time you were born. To some extent I’d say Brighton in 1977 wasn’t much different, albeit perhaps with a few more language schools.

I went to my first panto in the Theatre Royal. It was slightly more lacking in bloodshed that time.

If you are nostalgic for times gone by, this is your book.

Kiss and Part

I’d never heard of the Hosking Houses Trust, or the village of Clifford Chambers, and I’m guessing neither have you. The trust provides women writers with a “room of one’s own” where they can write in peace. And as such places require funding, they have commissioned a short story collection from past incumbents, and that’s Kiss and Part.

This is great fun to read and not in the slightest as worthy as it might sound. The introduction is by Margaret Drabble, and the list of authors has some names more famous than others on it, and all have contributed something original, something that connects with the cottage and the village.

Kiss and Part

We meet Shakespeare. After all, it’s more or less in his backyard. There is poetry. There are long stories and shorter ones, and they are all interesting in their own way.

I especially enjoyed The Incumbent by Elizabeth Speller, where I was at first annoyed by the seemingly narrow-minded narrator, but grew to understand her and to sympathise, and the ending is a masterpiece.

The stories are all different, as are their authors, and the fascinating aspect is how they all connect to the same place, while still being so diverse. They mirror literature today, showing us quality while proving this doesn’t have to be in just the one style.

White Eagles

This relatively short – because it’s for Barrington Stoke – novel by Elizabeth Wein, featuring a Polish teenager at the outbreak of WWII, is as wonderful and, yes, life affirming, as you’d want it to be.

Elizabeth Wein, White Eagles

I would obviously have welcomed a much longer novel, but White Eagles confirmed that you can have a full grown novel with few words. It’s as heartrending as Code Name Verity, as exciting and as sweet, as well.

Again, it’s worth being reminded that war didn’t only start in Britain. It broke out all over Europe, and it was equally devastating, or possibly more so. It’s easy to forget. And reading White Eagles I realised that there may well be an outbreak of fiction to ‘celebrate’ that it’s now 80 years since the war began. Unless one doesn’t mark the start?

18-year-old Kristina is a flying instructor in Warsaw, but when the Germans invade, she soon finds herself having to escape, with her plane, and before long nothing is as she’s known it.

Kristina is another young pilot in the mould of Maddie from Code Name Verity. I can read any number of stories about these early female pilots.