(Mostly) sold out

I was going to be helpful.

When we were property-hunting seven or eight years ago, the Resident IT Consultant bought a fold-out paper map of his birth town. The kind where you can look up street names and be told where to find said street on a grid. We reckoned it would be useful, even though he presumably had most of it ingrained on his brain, and I knew some bits of it.

Seven years is a long[ish] time. Most of us, even me, often use a map on a device. For me, not exclusively, but it’s handy having it out with you at all times. Assuming you have some access to all the stuff up in cyberspace when on the move. Or, I don’t know these things, maybe you can bypass old cyber if you app it?

Anyway, I wanted to suggest which map we’d found useful when talking to the newly arrived Swedes I mentioned the other day. Most online retailers reported it as being sold out, and that’s taking into account an edition later than ours. One shop, Waterstones, reckoned it could get it within ten days.

Ten days makes me suspect it won’t happen.

Newcomers need maps. They also need things like mobile contracts and bank accounts, but you can’t easily get one without the other. In which case the map on your mobile is gone when you’ve gone out and about, needing it the most.

Hence the need for paper maps.

Getting your priorities right

I found them on Facebook. Sometimes this crazy place has space for other stuff, including groups where everyone has the same thing in common. An early request on there for guidance before a move to Scotland from that place on the other side of the North Sea, led to me trying to be a little helpful. I usually stay away for fear of Facerage.

I believe I avoided saying that moving during a pandemic and the wrong side of Brexit was so crazy that they’d be better not doing it. How do you even buy a house to live in?

Anyway, some people really do need to move country and house and school and jobs. In which case some local advice is not necessarily a bad thing to provide.

A few months and two quarantine periods later, here they are. And the answer to the above is that you rent for a bit.

They are, probably temporarily, actually in the same town as myself. I have still not met them. I’m just good at dispensing advice, whether wanted or not.

But I was pleased to get a report from their first day of freedom. After an essential trip to a bank and lunch, they went to the town’s bookshop so the boy – neither old nor young – could buy a book.

I had to ask which one, because I wanted to form an opinion. I’d never heard of either the author or the title. It’s apparently fantasy. And adult. As in not children’s, not the other kind of adult. Like me at the same age, he reads in English. And for good measure his mother also photographed the pile of books he’d brought with him, in preference of more conventional packing. Toothbrushes are so overrated.

Let’s hope everything else goes well too. All you need is books. (Maybe a house. And a bank account.)

All the Money in the World

Most of us have more than we know, or think, or will acknowledge. This is definitely the case for Penny, who lives with her hardworking and always exhausted mum in a block of flats, converted from a grander house, walls covered in mould and a lack of privacy due to thin walls.

She has two best friends who also live there. The three of them smell, because of the mould, so are outcasts at school. They have very little money, and the lowest status in town. The old lady next door has a reputation for eating children, or at least trapping those who venture over the fence.

First by accident, and then because she wants to, Penny gradually befriends the old lady, and remains un-eaten. The friendship is good for both of them, until the day her old friend leaves on a mysterious journey, leaving Penny the keys to her house, as well as a considerable amount of money.

Now Penny can do what she wants, and she buys herself a new future, away from her old school and her flat and her friends. It doesn’t matter whether the new future is good or not. What matters is what she left behind. Where they things she didn’t need?

Very little in this new novel by Sarah Moore Fitzgerald goes the way you expect, apart from the gift of the money. You really do need to value what you have, where you come from. It’s usually not all bad, just as the new isn’t always as great as it seemed from the other side.

The lesson here is taught in a very nice way, and I liked it a lot (although I get very worried when people lie too much).

And the same again

It felt like I was an old hand at this, the writing about books and authors, and erm, going to the dentist, riding on buses, and eating cake. When we moved to Scotland, I mean. I’d been doing the online witchery for seven years and a couple of months and some number of days. That’s a really long time.

Or so I thought.

But then, a short while ago, it struck me that I’d been here for some time too. Not a really long time, obviously. Just seven years, two months and some days.

So that brings me halfway. No it doesn’t. It brings me the same distance again. Moving day is now halfway.

This is a very weird feeling. I’m still new here.

And before you worry about it too much, I’m not saying today is the day. It might be. Or not. It’s approximate. Seven, two, and a bit.

The new Edinburgh International Book Festival

I miss the live programme launches in Edinburgh. But there is plenty of information online for this year’s book festival, and whereas they can’t guarantee that everything will happen as it says in the programme, I feel they are more confident. This has been planned, in a fashion that takes in all the different ways of attending, both for the authors and the audience.

Some events will actually – fingers crossed! – have both live authors and a live audience. But you can still sit at home and watch it either live or a bit later. Or there are recorded events. Or the authors are there but the audiences are at home. And many other configurations.

It’s still free to watch online, but they would obviously appreciate some financial help, and there is a Pay What You Can system in place.

As you may remember, they have left Charlotte Square and will now be at the Edinburgh College of Art, on Lauriston Place in the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town. From what I can see, this will be just as good, only different. But maybe the same. Less mud, perhaps?

They will have a physical presence, with not only a couple of theatres, but a bookshop and a café, and I’m sure that between us we will be able to make it as cosy, in a new way. And you know about new ways don’t you? Soon they feel like the old way, how it always was.

I haven’t yet got my head round the whole programme, but I see they have a lot of local talent, with many Scottish authors. I have worked out how to tell if there can be a live audience, and I will see if I can get a grip on where the author will be; in Edinburgh, or in their own kitchen.

If you don’t plan to be in your kitchen, tickets can be fought over on July 22nd. Read the programme. Plan. And go!

Scottish by Inclination

Barbara Henderson’s book Scottish by Inclination could be described as an essential read for all other types of Scottish people, not to mention English people, and those further afield who still don’t see, or believe, that Brexit had much effect. Especially not on me, or us, or anyone perceived to be an OK sort of foreigner. Unlike ‘those others’.

Once I began reading the book I couldn’t stop. It’s just so good and so interesting and feels so real. It’s back to what I keep going on about; if you write what’s close to you, it will always be far better than anything else. And Barbara knows how to be German in Scotland, until she ‘forgot she was a foreigner’.

This is the story of Barbara’s life in Scotland, starting a little before she decided to study in Edinburgh, continuing with her departure from all she knew and loved best and her arrival at Glasgow airport thirty years ago. Just the fact that it was Glasgow then, when now it is nearly always Edinburgh. Short chapters on what it was like to be a student, on getting married, training for a job and starting work. Having babies and ending up in Inverness, where she still lives.

Every short chapter ends with a brief interview with other foreigners, from all the corners of the EU, showing why they came and what they do now, and showing that even those from some of the countries people have been suspicious of, are nice people, working hard, belonging. They are worthy of being here.

Although why immigrants should have to be so much ‘better’ than the people born in a country is beyond me.

I’m certainly not better than anyone. Just thinking about all the things Barbara did, working so very hard, having so much energy, and smiling so much, and, I believe, learning to understand what people in Glasgow say. (Only joking. A little.)

One of the EU citizens Barbara interviewed was your own witch. She even makes me sound interesting.

It’s my belief that anyone would enjoy this book. As I said, I started and couldn’t put it down. Bunkered up with sandwiches for lunch so I could read straight through the afternoon. After dinner the Resident IT Consultant took over and if you knew him, you’d know that not going for that walk he was going on but just sitting there reading and smiling, well… As an Edinburgh alumnus, albeit older, he enjoyed seeing what Barbara’s crowd got up to.

We are all foreigners, and it was a relief to see that someone else had had the same or similar problems to mine. And I appreciated the quotes from old and famous people for each chapter. It’s amazing not only how much wisdom there can be in a selection of quotes, but how apt they were for what the chapters were about.

There are photos of nearly all the EU interviewees, and what strikes me is how they look like people I’ve always known. (I’m the only one who’s turning her back on the reader.)

Yeah, did I mention I think everyone ought to read Scottish by Inclination? I really do.

Thinking differently

The Incredibly Busy Mind of Bowen Bartholomew Crisp is the loveliest picture book by Paul Russell and Nicky Johnston. It sounded good before I had it here to read, but it’s miles better in every way now that I have read it.

Bowen doesn’t think like everyone else. Not as fast, nor about the same things. But he is intelligent, and not only does he think in his own way, but he realises that other people don’t see the same things he does, or in the same way.

What colour is the ocean? I mean really? And you can’t be expected to look at a great work of art and have an opinion in no time at all. Or not send your tortoise into space? (He didn’t, because Grandma intervened.)

But after all those experiences with teachers and other adults who don’t get him, there is one person who does. His mum. Either she’s a bit special too, or she has learned from experience how to think like Bowen. The two of them get on very well, but I’m afraid I still don’t know if dinner will make itself?

It’s a thought, though, isn’t it?

Know My Place

It can’t be said enough. Children often create the strangest scenarios from what they understand and what they’ve been told.

In Know My Place, Eve Ainsworth’s new book for Barrington Stoke, we meet Amy as she enters yet another home to live in. As a foster child, she’s had a few, and not because she has been a bad girl. Just because that’s the way it often is when you’re fostered.

When you’ve got a few disappointments behind you, it is hard to trust anyone.

The question is, can Amy trust the Dawsons? They seem almost too good to be true.

It’s good to, well, no, it isn’t really, but it’s informative to read about how things can be. How they might work out. And how vulnerable children can be. How easily they misunderstand.

It’s a sweet, short, book on fostering, and how good it would feel to belong, to be like everyone else.

Too Near the Dead

‘But it will be all right in the end,’ said the Resident IT Consultant in a rare moment of trying to reassure me. I looked at him and pointed out that Helen Grant’s new novel, Too Near the Dead, is described as a gothic novel, and happy ever after isn’t necessarily a given. Besides, with Helen’s track record, did he really believe this?

I’d agonised about what reads as a wonderfully romantic and exciting mystery set in Perthshire, but which I knew would scare me senseless at some point, possibly without prior warning. After all, it starts with the heroine, Fen, lying in a sealed coffin, seemingly buried alive. It’s menacing, but quietly so. And that sense of unease didn’t leave me.

With Fen the kind of heroine who reads Jane Eyre as light entertainment when she’s scared of being home alone at night, you just know that something is coming for her. Will it be her fiancé James, an up-and-coming novelist, with whom she’s recently moved to this lonely spot in Perthshire? Can she trust him?

Fen is a copy editor with a London publisher, and she and James have bought a large Scottish house in the middle of nowhere, moving away from London. After Fen came into some money…

There is plenty in her own background to worry about. And what about the people in the nearby small town? Or the new house, or the old land on which it was built? It has a ruined chapel, and graves. You really can be Too Near the Dead.

It’s as though having placed her couple in the literary circles she moves in herself, and in a part of the country she also knows well, Helen Grant has been free to give the scary aspects of the story her full attention. Sometimes I wonder if this is advisable.

The book took longer to read due to needing to avoid it at bedtime; otherwise I’d have raced through it in a day. If you love gothic, this is the book for you. Even if you don’t, it could still be the book for you.

Football Superstars

A friend tagged me on Facebook yesterday. At first I struggled to even know what it was all about, but gradually worked out that someone, not the friend, was offering a ticket to the match tonight. Why she even thought I’d want to watch football is another thing. Plenty of others did, however, so I will assume some lucky soul is now heading to Glasgow to see a blue and yellow team beat another blue and yellow team.

I’d seen comments about a match and tickets but not really grasped that there actually was a match and that people might want tickets to actually see it. Well, we’re all different.

And today I am looking at three books about football, for the younger reader. Although, between you and me, I could see myself doing the quiz book; at least the wordsearches, etc. Because I don’t know all that much about today’s football stars.

But there will be young fans who will adore these books. One is a quiz book, one is about a player by the name of Pogba and the last about another player called Agüero. They are all by Simon Mugford and Dan Green, and are full of facts and lots of cartoon style illustrations. If I was into football, they would suit me just fine.

If I was into football, I’d even know properly that there is a major championship going on. Hence the tickets and the match. I just hadn’t paid proper attention to discover that you could actually go to these matches. Here’s hoping that those who go will have a lot of fun.