Category Archives: Travel

Lockdown escapes

So, the other day I moaned about – by which I mean ‘mentioned casually’ – the unlikeliness of seeing authors the way things are. Or even normal people.

The always-willing-to-try new-things Helen Grant offered to come and sit in my garden, and I went as far as to wipe the table and chairs free from bird poo.

I also got my Moomin mugs out, although I seem to need more. We were one short. And I am not saying this in order to make anyone other than me go shopping!

A couple of days ago Kirkland Ciccone – dressed to the nines – went to Oxfam. (When I found out, it was too late to entice him to come and sit in the garden.)

What I particularly like are the bibles. As a background to Kirkie, that is. He was in the ‘Grandmother’s branch’ of Oxfam, and they always do a roaring trade in bibles.

I mean, I’m sure it’s him. It’s a bit of an incognito style. Not everyone can get away with an outfit like that.

Booking a holiday

Maybe you noticed me sneaking off on holiday in August? Or not. Service has been poor, so no difference there.

With no Swedish sea and sand to be had – for me – this was replaced with the beaches of St Andrews and plenty of the famous Scottish sunshine. So that was fine. It was a no-frills home-from-home kind of week. It was right opposite my favourite shoe shop and a few doors down from Waterstones, and not far to the other bookshops or the cheese shop, where it’s possible to spend a minor fortune on cheese. Might have spent a little bit on shoes, too. It just happened, like.

Toppings have too many books, if you know what I mean. It looks gorgeous and the books go all the way to the ceiling, but it’s kind of hard to browse. No room to turn and I don’t bend well – so had to instruct Daughter to bend for me and search among the crime paperbacks right under the table. When I sat down in one of their armchairs, someone came up and offered me tea or coffee within seconds. And I only needed to rest a little…

Didn’t go very deep into the children’s books corner, as I wanted to keep my distance from the mother and child already in there, reading books. Who wants to look at children’s books, anyway? Bought a few adult books, by which I mean non-children’s, not adult adult. Picked ones I could see and reach, so choice was what it was.

In Waterstones I picked a few more, including one standing face-out on a display shelf. Kicked myself afterwards for not having replaced it with a book of my choice, but leaving the empty space empty. Oh, well. Had wanted to browse a few more books, including a look at a second book of a series I wrote about some weeks ago, to see what it was like, but they didn’t have it. In fact, neither shop had what was on my mental list to physically look at when in a real shop.

As we had already done both the jigsaw puzzles in the flat, Daughter bought another one; a Vincent van Gogh. It looked easy enough, but by the end I almost grew to hate it, and it’s long been one of my favourites. Also played Jenga, which didn’t do  much for my blood pressure. What if the whole thing toppled???

There were books in the flat. Not many, but some. Pocket walking guides. Nigella and Jamie and Gordon. I suppose in case guests were wanting to know how to cook dinner.

We watched one film. Casino Royale. The old one. We love it and that’s why it was chosen, but oh dear, how un-pc it has become. I also only read one book, a fairly short one. Seating was a bit uncomfortable, and the lack of reading lamps not good for old witches. I’ll bring one, next time, if only to keep the coffee machine company.

The week ticked all the boxes; sea, sand, sun, ice cream, books, cheese, shoes, strolls through town. The Resident IT Consultant walked a lot more properly, and felt sorry for us, but each to their own, I say. He too came across some books when out.

On track, or not

I’ve hit a bit of a slump.

While I’ve ‘blessed’ the fact that I can attend bookfest events with no travelling or early gettings-out-of-bed, I suddenly realised something else. Had this not been the year of Covid with no live events, I’d still not have been going to Edinburgh for the festival.

Because there are no trains. Well, there are, but not all the way. You will no doubt have heard of the dreadful train accident near Stonehaven, near Aberdeen last week. The same night there were plenty of floods elsewhere in Scotland, including one causing a ‘hole in the ground’ near Polmont, which is exactly halfway to/from Edinburgh for me.

This will apparently take two months to fix.

So, no through trains. Yes, one can get to Edinburgh by car – so far – but that only works because there is no festival, with no tourists to clog up every available road or parking space.

Between the virus and the weather; there really wasn’t going to be any live bookfesting for me this year.

The Enchanted April

April 2020 might not feel all that enchanted, but it still seemed appropriate to read Elizabeth von Arnim’s The Enchanted April right now, seeing as it was available. It features the beauty of Italy in April, but I have to say that my part of Scotland has managed to look enchanting in its own way.

Having known nothing about the author, except recognising her name, I discovered this novel in the Guardian Review a while ago, and felt the recommendation was strong enough that I would actually order the book. And read it.

Set in 1922, four women – strangers to each other – take up the offer to spend April in a castle in Italy after seeing an ad in The Times. We meet them as the first two, Mrs Wilkins and Mrs Arbuthnot, slowly come to the realisation that by sharing the let, and allowing themselves to use their nest eggs, this could be a dream come true. They advertise for two more women to share the cost.

So it’s a sort of strangers in an airbnb.

Mrs Wilkins and Mrs Arbuthnot leave behind Mr Wilkins and Mr Arbuthnot in lowly Hampstead, whereas the elderly Mrs Fisher is a widow and the young and gorgeous Lady Caroline just wants to be left alone. (Too many admirers.)

Lotty (Mrs Wilkins) and Rose (Mrs Arbuthnot) enjoy the freedom of not having to always put their husbands first. Mrs Fisher is a bit bossy, and Lady Caroline, aka Scrap, complains all the time but does it so nicely that everyone is charmed.

It’s clear that Lotty is somewhat of a witch, in that she ‘sees’ things. And her seeings do have a tendency to come true, however annoying Mrs Fisher finds her.

The castle truly is enchanted, or how else do you explain the changes in the four women? And the effect it ends up having on several other people. It’s not only the quiet, beige, Lotty who flourishes. There is magic for everyone.

It’s not quite what I had expected, but such fun and so lovely. We could all do with enchantment and wisteria, whether in Italy in April, or by some other means. Even if it’s not going to happen this year.

Ships, and paradise

It was the ‘Ship with no harbour‘ I thought of first. Was it last month? Time is strange right now. But anyway, those cruise ships that weren’t allowed to put into harbour in the Far East because of the contagion on board.

I felt there were many parallels with Lisa Tetzner’s novel set in the late 1930s, where poor, and ill, Europeans tried to start a new life in South America. But no country wanted them so they sailed on. And on.

Closer to home [Scotland] we have Teri Terry’s Contagion from three years ago. That was pretty terrible. I’m not even going to mention percentages here. I was only able to like it because it was so very fictional.

And that witchy feeling I had about the current Bookwitch Towers? I wasn’t sure what bad stuff I was expecting until Brexit happened. Then I ‘knew.’ That’s what was going to forcibly remove me from here. Maybe.

Then there’s the television drama from 2003, Virus au Paradis. I loved it at the time. It, too, was fictional. It was, wasn’t it? But I feel a lot worse about it now.

At the moment, I can only read nice fluffy books. I can only bear watching nice fluffy films. Before long I’ll be nothing but nice and fluffy.

Out of Berlin

When Daughter moved to Berlin for work after the summer, there were all the normal feelings you have about that kind of situation. Plus, I had one more. I could visualise her being stranded in war-torn Berlin, unable to get away.

As some of you may know, I am a witch. I see things, but don’t necessarily know exactly what my seeings mean. I told myself repeatedly that this scenario was pretty unlikely, and that I was using old prejudice and mixing up WWII and Berlin with… I don’t know what with, actually.

But the image stayed in my mind.

And then she decided to move back home and I felt that was it, then. No more war in Berlin. She returned to Scotland for a couple of weeks, before finalising the moving out. I was to go with her to help pack, and we booked the flights. (Out this coming Sunday, and back early April.)

Then Friday evening last week, I felt it would be much better to go sooner. Like on the Sunday morning. Because the travel issues to do with that other war, on the virus, made everything look almost undoable. We re-booked.

When he dropped us off at the airport the Resident IT Consultant looked like he’d not be seeing us again for a very long time. And I knew we couldn’t be certain of getting out in time, so we packed while keeping in mind that we might very well be stranded in the company of many, many boxes. Although for a pessimist I was a bit optimistic.

But I couldn’t un-see my premonition of being stuck in Berlin. I just hadn’t seen myself there as well.

After 24 hours we’d made enough progress that we re-booked our return travel on the first flight to Scotland, which was for two days later. Fingers were continuously crossed as more and more borders were reported closed.

With unprecedented optimism we threw out the last fish fingers the night before, and slept very little. Checked really carefully that the outbound flight had left Glasgow, feeling that this would almost guarantee that the plane would fly back as well.

It did, and I’ve never before been so pleased to see the pretend Scottish landscape at the airport, complete with birdsong and a ‘view over the loch.’ The Resident IT Consultant had made the most of his drive there, picking up coffee beans at IKEA. The way you do.

I understand the last scheduled flight to Scotland is some time today.

A close shave.

Cancelled all over

The London Book Fair cancelled really rather late. But better late than not, maybe? Probably. Not sure, though.

Looking at it from the point of view of Son, and not some London based employee in a big publishing house, it’s hard to know what to do for the best. Obviously money already spent is lost if you don’t travel. Your own money.

But it’s also the disappointment, if you have planned the trip, looking forward to seeing people you don’t otherwise see much of, because of where you spend most days of your working life.

Yes, you can Skype. But I believe it’s the personal touch that makes book fairs so useful. It’s how you decide to work with someone, and you do it over coffee, or wine, or if in a Nordic country, over a prawn sandwich.

London based staff can spend all this week seeing other book world people, in other venues, and they are probably a lot more relaxed about the loss of the fair.

To go anyway, or not to go? That is the question.

No granite for me

All I needed to do was keep that one day in February clear. Not too hard a task, you’d think. But as with the unavoidable snow two years ago, I had this lurgy, and I could see it’d last too long. I didn’t want my event with Sara Paretsky to have a The Mirror Crack’d kind of scenario. If the woman was willing to travel all this way from Chicago, I didn’t have to go to Aberdeen to infect her and her fans with anything.

But you’d think a cold could be satisfied with a week of me.

Anyway, what I’m doing instead of seeing Sara with Denise Mina in Aberdeen, is trying not to pass the cold on to a whole different host of people, travelling, when I perhaps shouldn’t. I hope they have fun without me.

I will think back on my snowy journey to Nottingham all those years ago, and my subsequent trip to Glasgow to see Sara talk to Denise, also ‘some’ years ago. One can learn to be satisfied with what one has already had.

Besides, Sara recently admitted to having killed Mr Contreras. I mean, she didn’t, because her heroic husband threw himself in front of the bullet, and Mr Contreras lives. But still…

Granite Noir

You know you want to, so why not trek over to Aberdeen this weekend, for some dark granite?

“Granite Noir, Aberdeen’s International Crime Writing Festival, returns to the city this week. Now in its fourth year, events run from Thursday 20 to Sunday 23 February in interesting, quirky and unusual spaces across the city offering an arresting line-up for all crime fans.

Headlining Granite Noir 2020 are Sara Paretsky, Anne Holt, Ben Aaronovitch, and Scotland’s own Ian Rankin, in conversation with comedian Phill Jupitus. The connection with Scandinavia is reinforced with appearances from Norwegian, Swedish and Icelandic writers and home-grown talent includes conversations with Denise Mina, Helen Fitzgerald and Ambrose Parry.

Non-fiction events include conversations with three of Britain’s most renowned forensic scientists, and Robert Jeffrey who explores the remarkable story of Peterhead Prison.

Using records from Aberdeen City & Aberdeenshire Archives, Outcasts: Women, Crime and Society, a free exhibition at the Music Hall and Lemon Tree, examines our morbid fascination with female criminals and witchcraft.

Criminally good music events include Phill Jupitus and Ian Rankin. The Locked Door: Murder at the Movies, where participants revisit the crime scene, collect clues and solve puzzles to crack the case. Film screenings, performances of Dial M For Murder, writing workshops, an evening of Gin and Sin, local history walks and talks, a Poison Cocktail Party and Poisoned High Tea complete the line-up of events for adults.

Little Detectives can enjoy Monstrously Funny Adventures with Justin Davies and learn how to howl like a werewolf (in English, French and maybe even Doric), or join the CSI: Crime Squirrel Investigators with author and CBeebies screenwriter Emily Dodd.”

For those who know me, it should be easy enough to work out what I want to do. (Should I be able to get out of bed, that is…)

Grace Dent’s shoe

It was Sherlock Holmes – the real one – who said something along the lines of making a few disjointed comments about unrelated things in order to make you sound genuinely ill and raving. Mention loose change.

I’ve enjoyed Grace Dent’s restaurant columns in the Guardian ever since she started. Almost, anyway. I didn’t take kindly to the change, but I love her now. And, well, with me feeling off colour, I’ve not really done an honest day’s work for over a week. Watering the pot plants takes it all out of me.

So I’ve spent too long hanging over the laptop, and what’s a Witch to do but read her own ancient wit from time to time? So by complete coincidence I discovered the post about my 2008 trip to Godalming to the Queen of Teen event! I believed I’d never see my home again.

I had thought of that day only recently. Something to do with The Book People going bankrupt, and me feeling that maybe they shouldn’t have arranged these pink limo events, however fun.

Where was I? Loose change. Yes. So the first thing I noticed was Grace Dent’s shoe. I remember it well. I recall thinking I needed to get a shot of shoe and leg, and it seems I succeeded. Didn’t remember whose shoe at first, but then it all came back to me; Grace, her teen books that I had not read and that she willingly dressed up in frills and pink for a day.

Long before eating all that food on our behalf. For which I am grateful. Obviously. Having got this far I had to look her up, and discovered she went to the University of Stirling…

Anyway, anyone – almost – can write teen novels. I’m really enjoying those restaurant columns. And my temperature is down.