Of course Peter Mayle started it all off with his tales of life in Provence after which it was de rigeur to have a gite in the Dordogne or a second home in a remote French provincial town, prefereably with a ruin to do up, battered old olive trees to renovate and to produce gallons of superb olive oil. Then there were tales of those who had gone off to Spain to do up a ruin/run an olive farm/lemon grove etc etc. Note there are very few books of French couples hot footing it off to Grimsby to do up a semi detached and go trawling.
Ok I am being a tad satirical here because there were so many of these books at one stage and I used to get sooooo tired of reading about these couples who triumphed over the odds and who were helped out by quirky/eccentric/barking locals. So when I was asked if I would review Under the Croatian Sun I thought ah, do I really want to and then thought well why not? It sounded fun and it was set in a part of the world about which I know very little and Peter Mayle is a thousand miles away and, to cut a long story short, I read it.
And it is full of the eccentrics, the unusual and the totally barmy as in all the other previous books of this ilk, but this one had a wit and a sense of humour running through it and no pretentiousness at all. Anthony and Ivana have moved from Fulham to Vis, a remote island off the coast of Croatia when they had visited and fallen in love with it, as you do. So they buy a tatty house and do it up. One thing to bear in mind with this genre of books is that the author(s) are nearly always broke, running out of money and using up their budget. Always. BUT you can only even think of doing something like this if you have a bit of dosh sloshing around in the bank and I rather shy away from this plea of poverty. If you have sold a property in Fulham you are not short of a bob or two so this has to be borne in mind.
They seem to have no problem settling in, both Anthony and Ivana love the island and have no doubts that they are going to be happy there. However, there is a snag, the natives are not friendly.
"The first rude awakening to the actual local hostility was not long in coming. One morning, Karmela press ganged a solemn faced fisherman into helping me carry a table upstairs, and once we'd done the job, thinking that he might like to see what we had done to the house, I offered him a coffee and to show him around. The fellow looked as if he'd bitten into a bad apple and, with an expression on his face that reminded me of Norman Tebbit, he said he was busy and left.
Karmela had heard my exchange with the fisherman and came in from the garden 'You mustn't take it badly' she said 'this is how we are - suspicious of everybody'
What to do? and how to get the locals to accept them? Various schemes come to mind and are tried out but my favourite was when Anthony decided to set up a local cricket team. Nelson's navy had occupied the island and played cricket there for years and, as a keen cricketer, Anthony decides that he will get a cricket team together and, once assembled, starts to teach them to play. He is only partially successful and manages to obtain a grant for the services of a cricket coach who duly arrives and sets to:
"Be patient. Wear the batsman down"
"Arm straighter. Use your wrist"
"Pitch it up lad. You'll never get anybody out like that!"
It was music to my ears. I was back in my Aertex shirt and Clark's shoes with a brown paper bag containing a doorstep sandwich and a bottle of Tizer beside me"
This was the part of the book I enjoyed most as I am a cricket lover and found this both amusing and touching and, yes, in the end they are accepted by the community and all is happy and glorious.
As I have said, I loved this book and though it is full of the usual cast of eccentrics, it rings true. Sometimes in other books of this kind I suspect that traits and characteristics have been exaggerated to make the narrative more interesting. I do not feel that here, though of course I may be wrong.
But then I sat down and had a think. If I wrote a book about my life, my travels and funny things that have happened to me and funny people I have met, I am pretty sure that some of my tales would also sound as if I am making them up. Everyone you meet has a story, can be funny and witty and amusing or sad or miserable or bad tempered. I know I have met many. The Australian who ran down England and everyone in it when I first visited over forty years ago, he who had never set foot out of New South Wales let alone Oz but who I put up with until I was established and then gave him an earful; an Egyptian who offered twelve camels for me because I had blonde hair; the woman who complained my garlic bread (I was into catering at the time) had no garlic in it and who then said it was delicious when I blasted it in the microwave and took the same piece back to her; the neighbour who complained that I was parked in his designated parking space even though he had no car; the tenor singing O Sole Mio to me in Saint Mark's Square in Venice; all these little happenings and vignettes could all be put into a book and would probably sound made up, only they happened.
The world is full of adventures, great and small, and quirky interesting people and this book is packed with them. It lifts the spirit reading about it all and I highly recommend it. Do check out his website as well which has some gorgeous pics on it http://www.stancombonvis.com/under-a-croatian-sun
Forget Peter Mayle and Provence, think Anthony and Croatia instead....
Last year was the inaugural book festival held at this delightful seaside town. It was a great success and so here we are again. Difficult to follow up on such a great start and hoping that lots of people will come as they did in 2013 and enjoy. On reading the comment sheets left after each event it was clear that those who had attended had thoroughly enjoyed themselves, one of the best quotes being 'felt like it had been established for years'.
So thanks to the Orwell Hotel for being our sponsor and location for the events in 2014 and am writing today to tell you all about it and to urge those of you who can to attend.
I will be introducing various speakers, including of course my wonderful daughter, Helen McCarthy who will be talking about her book Women of the World (click on link on right hand side of my blog if you wish to buy a copy) and the whole family may attend which will be a delight. I am also introducing Liz Trenow whose first novel The Last Telegram was so enjoyed by me and many others and who gave a great chat about it. She has a new one, The Forgotten Seamstress, and we are delighted to have her back. Then I have the honour of introducing our speaker at our Gala Dinner on Saturday evening, Steven Gauge who will be talking about his life in Rugby when he had a pair of boots but no idea how to play. This sounds as if it is going to be fun.
Loads and loads of interesting things including events at the Fort, Felixstowe to chime in with the anniversary of the Great War, vintage tea parties, events for children - a packed schedule.
Please check out the website and buy some tickets and if you can make it come along - see you there!
Still recovering from drive back which I am sure all my US readers will think is nothing, but a lot to this English woman who is becoming more creaky every day. Journey back straightforward and nothing to hold us up this time, and we broke the drive by calling in on my sis and bro in law for lunch which was lovely. Of course, getting off at the wrong junction on the M1 was not a good idea and added another forty mins drive time. By the time we hit Colchester in the evening had been driving for some six hours.
Yesterday was a day of doing sod all but still feeling tired this morning as hay fever has taken hold and did not have a good night so will be hitting the duvet pretty early this evening and hope to be back to ok tomorrow. Sounds as if my holiday has not done me much good from my moaning and yes, a long drive and a lot of UP in Yorkshire, but oh it was lovely. I love Yorkshire, always have done from my very first visit at age 19 when I went to Haworth for the first time, saw the Parsonage, walked the moors and was smitten. The UK is full of the most wonderful places to visit and see and I have seen many beauties, the Lake District for one, but there is something about Yorkshire that really draws me in. I feel happy and at home there and if circs were different I would live there quite happily.
Here are two collages of pics taken by me at Robin Hood's Bay which is simply enchanting. No other word to describe it. We could have happily stayed another week though not sure my knees would have survived, but we both simply loved it.
Bottom right hand pic - this is the view from my window. I felt very Anne of Green Gablish up there.
The beach was fifty yards from our front door. When the tide was out there were rock pools and seaweed and shells and stones and children having a wonderful time and dogs jumping in and out of the pools with wagging tails and grins on their faces.
We are going to go back next year, that is a definite and already checking out cottages. Dock Cottage is excellent and beautifully placed but is NOT for those with wobbly knees, vertigo and creaking joints.
Did not do a huge amount of reading while away, too busy sitting and just looking but will be back in a day or so with some reviews.
I had forgotten just how much I love Yorkshire. Out of all the places I have visited in the UK I honestly think it is my favourite. Cornwall runs a close second but though the drive up was awful as posted, the sight of the Yorkshire moors and a glimpse of Whitby harbour as I drove by, sun shining on both, was breathtaking.
We are staying in Robin Hood's Bay which is simply enchanting, echoes of Haworth in its narrow winding streets and unexpected corners. Every tiny cottage has a garden and even if it is only three feet by three, they are all packed with flowers and are obviously loved. Very quiet here during the week but at weekends the trippers come and then it is busy so we have been very happy to potter around without too many tourists here. I think it will be different come July.
Wifi is intermittent so have not been able to post as much as I would have liked and shared the experience with you but catching up a bit now. We have visited Whitby, York and Scarborough and have had great days in all of them.
One of the most memorable was the visit to Anne Bronte's grave. I have wanted to see it for years, in fact nearly thirty years, and finally made it. A pull up a hill from the town centre to St Mary's and there it was. I found myself getting quite emotional. I am a huge admirer of Anne, feel she is totally underappreciated (see my post on this here) and when she went to Scarborough with Charlotte, she knew she would not return to Haworth. Charlotte wanted to spare her father another funeral after the recent deaths of Branwell and Emily. I have always found the description of her death deeply moving. She lay quietly on a sofa drifting away while in the next room in the hotel a noisy lunch party was taking place and all unaware of what was going on while they were enjoying themselves.
The church had a flower festival and so in we went and were greeted warmly and with great friendliness by the church workers who were supplying tea and home made scones to all. We stayed there for about an hour and a nicer bunch of people you could not hope to meet. Had a long chat with one of the parishioners who was playing the organ and then the piano, and he was telling me about his journey to God. Yes, and wince if you must and my initial reaction was Oh blimey get me out of here, but he was so joyous and happy and keen to make me feel happy too, that I was quite charmed and talked to him for a while. He was in his sixties and clear to me that I was in the presence of a contented man. We had a long chat about church music and choirs and our favourite pieces and when I finally left him he shook my hand, beamed and said God will Bless you and I walked out of the church feeling totally spiritually refreshed. I would not normally write something like that down, but the feeling of the church and its community was delightful. My friend felt the same.
I am grateful for my lot and my life and my family and these days I do say thank you on a regular basis. I find it easier somehow when I am surrounded by beauty and the sea and the countryside and nature. I am sitting up in bed writing this, taking advantage of the wifi while it is there, and the sun is shining on the headland, the tide is out and the bay is full of rock pools, gulls are wheeling and crying in the sky and hardly anybody is up so all is still.
When these moments come I appreciate them and feel content.
Up and off to Yorkshire yesterday. Car loaded, filled up with petrol, food and drink etc. Sun shining and nice day. Decided to avoid M1 and off we went to get on A1. Poodling along and then noticed sign flashing saying that A1 was closed after the A606 (Leicester). Crap I thought. We get there and sure enough it was closed, two lorries loaded with traffic cones sitting there, two drivers drinking tea and reading their papers and occasionally glancing at the five mile tale back of us unfortunates inching forward in first gear. Actually got out the car, opened boot and extracted our sandwiches as nobody was going anywhere.
Eventually we were syphoned off along a road marked Alternative Route North. Off we went and then we come to a roundabout, no signs, no nothing, nobody knows what is going on. I saw a sign to Leicester and as I have driven up to see my sister a lot around here decided to take that road as we could then get on M1. So off we went cross country and eventually hoved up to the ring round at Leicester. Round we went. M1 South clearly sign posted but where was the MI North? Eventually saw a tiny sign and shot down there to find myself going along a long A road and no signage at all, was on point of turning back when suddenly spotted a small MI North sign. Whole ring road totally lacking in decent directions. To cut a very long and boring story short, we go on M1, roadworks so we all had to drive at 50 mph for over an hour, then got going and then an 'incident', came to halt and sat. In the end I got off the M1, spotted a sign for Scarborough and took that. More cross country but as we found ourselves driving across the Yorkshire Moors that was ok as it was breathtakingly beautiful. Caught a glimpse of Whitby and the abbey as well and after more cross country finally made it to Robin Hood's Bay. The cottage where we are staying is right at the bottom of the hill and I ended up driving down in first gear with foot firmly on brake only to meet a car coming up. I backtracked and manouevred and inched and inched and he just sat there doing nothing and stared at me. In the end I managed to get past him, both wing mirrors flattened in and he did not say thankyou or acknowledge me in any way. Arsehole thought I as we left him behind.
OK so all unloaded and then the fun part. Had to take the car back UP the hill to a private car parking space at the top. So off I went and it was a first gear hill and I was sweating in every pore and rigid with fear. Made it. On way back my friend went and bought fish and chips and then total collapse and bed. I had been driving for over seven hours.......
After this my drive to Ealing will be a doddle.
But oh this place is simply enchanting and what a gorgeous day today. Here is a pic of one of the winding streets. The pigeon posed beautifully.
Off to Whitby tomorrow. Do hope the weather holds.
Am off to Yorkshire tomorrow for a week. Visiting Robin Hood's Bay which has been on my UK list of places to see for ages. Going with a good friend and renting a house right by the harbour and with a great view. Whitby is a short bus ride away, as is Scarborough and we intend to visit both. I so want to see Anne Bronte's grave and to explore and a trip to York is also planned as, apart from the wonderful Shambles, Minster and Museums, there are plenty of second hand bookshops...
One place I am going to revisit is a tiny little church in Goodramgate. I discovered it years ago and my first thought when entering was that it matched the description of the church in The Little White Horse perfectly, down to the crooked floors and the high pews. So lots of pics to take and share with you all and hope to blog throughout the week.
A few months ago I posted about my very favourite L M Montgmery book, The Blue Castle, link here. It was a new edition by Hesperus and it is now on my shelves sitting next to my battered thirty year old copy that I came across in a remaindered bookshop in Brixton High Street. I had not known any other books existed other than the Anne of Green Gables series and I adored it. Since then I have tracked down all of her work and have every single thing that she wrote, or that has been discovered so far, and I am delighted to hear that more of her unknown stand alone titles are being reprinted now that the author is out of copyright.
A Tangled Web is the second republished by Hesperus and I am most grateful to them for sending me a copy. I read it in one afternoon a week or so ago and could not put it down, indeed I can never put any of LMM's books down once started even if I have already read them several times already which is always the case.
'I am ready to die. I've felt almost everything in life there is to feel - I've drained my cup. But I mean to die decently and in order. I'm going to have one last rally'
For over sixty years members of the Penhallow family have married members of the Dark family and have created a tangled web of marriages, feuds and secrets. Aunt Becky knows she is dying so has called them altogether to read her will to them, tell then what she thinks of them and, most importan of all, who is to inherit the family's most precious heirloom. It is a jug, it is ugly, cracked and badly mended but it has been handed down through the generations and every member of the family wants the pride of ownership.
And so they all come. Murray Dark who is in love with Thora married to a drunken wastrel and who has nearly died several times but never quite managed it, so he is left to watch her from a distance; Margaret Penhallow, a spinster who lives as a drudge with her family in a noisy, loud untidy house and who yearns to live quietly in a small cottage in the country; Mrs Alpheus Penhallow and Nan,her modern, glamorous daughter with sleek hair who paints her lips and smokes cigarettes and who is disapproved of by everybody; young and lovely Gay Penhallow in love with Noel; Joscelyn Dark who left her husband on their wedding day and has never explained why - all the clan arrive at Aunt Becky's bidding.
She decides that a year will pass after her death before the inheritor of the jug is named. During that year the family dynamic changes forever. Nan decides to take Noel from Gay, Margaret is determined to have a life of her own, Murray attains his heart's desire and the long estrangement of Joscelyn and her husband comes to a head.
All these stories are interwoven, with many more strands to tell full of subtle touches, wit and humour and outright laughter. L M Montgomery is at the height of her powers here and she is unmerciless in her eagle eyed perception of the stupidity and silliness of humanity, also its love and warmth. It is very close to being my favourite and if you have not read this title, then I urge you to do so, you will simply love it.
I have read Montgomery's journals and know what a hard and difficult life she had, with an unhappy marriage and an unsatisfactory son, and from reading these it is clear how she finds a release in losing herself in her imagination and in the world she creates.