Lexie Conyngham's Blog: writing, history and gardening.

Friday, 7 May 2021

A Catch-up on March and April reading

 Yes, I did manage to squeeze in a few books in March and April, though I must say time seems to be racketing past! So here they are in no particular order:

                      books!)



Ice Escape, Beatrice Hale: Here's a lovely little adventure story for about 7 - 10 year olds, based on real events. In 1932 the American Flying Family, the Hutchisons, decided to try to be the first family to fly around the world, but unfortunately this plan did not coincide with that of a Canada goose which hit one of the engines, and the plane came down on the coast of Greenland. Amazingly they were rescued by the crew of an Aberdeen fishing trawler, and the writer of this fictionalised account is the grand-daughter of one of the crew. Well-researched and very realistic!

Murder on the Oxford Canal (DI Hillary Greene, #1)

Faith Martin, Murder on the Oxford Canal: I’d read one later in this series some time ago and enjoyed it, and decided to go back to what I think is the beginning. It’s an interesting set-up – promising police officer dealing with the fact that not only has her husband died, but he was a corrupt copper, too, and investigations will follow. In the midst of this a body is found in the canal, and off we go for a fairly entertaining read and the start to a long series. There’s a fair amount of jumping between points of view, but actually it sort of works, and the intertwining of the two kinds of investigation makes for a decent plot.

Murder at the University (DI Hillary Greene, #2)

Faith Martin, Murder at the University: This begins to build nicely on the characters established in the first book of the series and is quite a satisfying read. I do like Hilary and her colleagues (some more than others) and these are entertaining books.

For Their Sins: a gripping crime thriller (DI Alec McKay Book 5)

For Their Sins, Alex Walters: The fifth in the Alex McKay series set in the Black Isle, all of which I have very much enjoyed. One of the factors is the overhang of cases from one book to another, possibly making them less effective as standalones but definitely making them more convincing as a series (hints of Susan Hill here). The team in these police procedurals is appealing, including the elegant, athletic Ginny Horton and the controlled and private Helena Grant – it’s also refreshing to have a detective who is getting his marriage back together, rather than watching it fall apart. Other characters wander in from previous books and add to the sense of an actual community rather than an episodic history. This book was also written during the pandemic and has casual references to it, really occurring quite naturally as they now do in conversation in a changed world. It works rather well.

The Unwilling Heir (Brighton Heirs Book 4)

The Unwilling Heir, Cecilia Peartree: This traditional series, with a touch of romance, is becoming more and more accomplished, and I think, though this is the last official Brighton Heir, there might be a spin-off. We start here with a head injury and amnesia and two young ladies in trouble, and as usual things grow more complicated from there. I enjoyed the accuracy of the time setting and the usual romp with smugglers and their ilk along the south coast, and the general sense that though troubles may arise, good will prevail. Very enjoyable!

The Raven and the Reindeer

The Raven and the Reindeer, T. Kingfisher: A retelling of The Snow Queen, this is witty, as befits Kingfisher, but just as chilling as the original. There are some seriously bizarre moments here to do with reindeer, and the otters are wonderful, but mostly I’d like to take the raven home for company.

The Concert
Faith Martin, Murder at the University: This begins to build nicel

Ismail Kadare, The Concert: Set in Albania, this novel, darkly comic in places, tells the story from several perspectives of the breakdown in relations between Albania and China in the 1970s. It’s full of black humour and personal sorrows, and the minute interpretation of tiny variations in international protocol from which massive shifts in policy are derived, notably the accidental stepping, by an Albanian engineer, on a Chinese delegate’s toe. Particularly alarming or amusing, depending on your perspective, is the mad, manufactured world of Mao Zedong, trying simultaneously to manipulate and to ignore the countries around China and distrusting all of them. Points of view vary and switch, making you wonder who you can trust. Discredited officials are driven mad just by being ignored, or by thinking they are being ignored. Families try to beat the system, without ever quite understanding what the system is. There are some nice pithy observations on the situation in Albania and China. The plot culminates in a visit to China by one of the main characters, with stories derived from what he sees there and eventually a mysterious concert, attended by party leaders and foreign dignitaries, from which the party leaders leave unexpectedly early, because Mao is dying. The endgame, though, is a playful discussion of truth, historical account and warped narratives, and how regimes can distort, wilfully or not, the account of what really happened – assuming anybody knows.

The Wayward Alliance

The Wayward Alliance, J.R. Tomlin: An awkward start, with lots of repetitions of words – could have done with a bit of an edit. However, the pace picks up and the setting of mediaeval Perth is quite well done, more by portraying people than by describing the setting. There are a few Americanisms: in a book set around this date one cannot object to alternative spellings, but the use of the word ‘block’ in a mediaeval context is tricky to take. Even I found a bit of the mediaeval Scots a little heavy here and there, some scenes could have done with an edit to improve intelligibility, and beyond the main character it was hard to get to grips with the cast, but on the whole this was a good read.

Becca

Becca, Kath Middleton: As I began to read this book, I was often frustrated by the characters and their difficulties in recognising what was happening in their lives, much as I felt sorry for them. By halfway I’d got past the feeling of ‘Heavens, this is sad’ and reached an excited ‘Oh, this might turn out all right – but how?’ but still with a sense of dread because I know a Kath Middleton book can go almost anywhere! I’ll not say whether or not it does, and whether or not my frustrations were allayed. This is not an easy read by any means, but one that leaves you with plenty to think about and characters that live on in your head. It really played with the emotions. Another excellent read from Middleton.


Viking Ferry

Viking Ferry, Maressa Mortimer: This is an original set-up – a woman taking a late night cross-Channel ferry is kidnapped by a troop of Vikings. It’s not clear where she is, for once she sees a cruise ship from the Viking ‘castle’ and tries to attract its attention. Her relationship with her captors is, quite reasonably, confused – she tries to forgive them, but struggles with the men’s violence and the women’s complacency. Some very practical tips here on how to escape Vikings – or indeed any captivity – and how to face it with integrity.

Antiques and Alibis (Cass Claymore Investigates Book 1)

EAntiques and Alibis, Wendy H. Jones: A lively, sarky, sharp start to a series with an ex-ballet dancer from a large and colourful family attempting to rescue her late uncle’s investigation business along with his antisocial dog and a mysterious but charming ex-con called Quill.

Front Page News (London, #1)

Front Page News, Sadie Gordon Richmond: I was a bit intrigued by this because I know a few Richmond Gordons but no Gordon Richmonds – and apparently she dreams of living on the east coast of Scotland, where many Gordons do indeed have their homes. Anyway, it was a free offer, and I thought I’d give it a go. Rather elegantly written, this is set around north-west London on my old stomping ground of the Edgware branch of the Northern Line. I found it a bit difficult to relate to either of the police officers – they were lightly sketched despite some elaborate back stories, but they might, if this is a series, develop into well-rounded characters. One slightly weird point where the police consult a recent census return in the local library to find out who was living at a particular address (not permitted, and electoral rolls would be better), but otherwise this was a pretty interesting book, until it finished abruptly without much of a resolution. Would I read the next one? At present, I’m not quite sure – I like a story to finish properly, not just tail off.

Death in Delft (Master Mercurius Mysteries, #1)

Death in Delft, Graham Brack: This has been coming up on my Amazon pages for a bit, and I thought I might as well try it. The setting is very appealing, winter in 17th century Delft with Vermeer among the characters. I was quickly drawn in: the main character is interesting and those he meets are cleverly drawn, and I felt I was really involved in the place. Thoroughly good read.

A Snowball's Chance in Hell (DCI Logan Crime Thrillers #9)

A Snowball’s Chance in Hell, J.D. Kirk: Vigilantes are in control here for a complicated plot where even the perpetrators, when caught, might or might not be guilty. Poor Olivia Maximuke is in trouble again, too, but the plots intertwine and no doubt she will surface again in future books. The team are as always hilarious, particularly the awful Bob Hoon, always there with the apposite turn of phrase just when you don’t expect him. I’d like to see him meet Roberta Steele from the Stuart MacBride books – and then I’d like to leave the room quite quickly and watch from a safe distance.

Ahead of the Game (DCI Logan Crime Thrillers #10)

Ahead of the Game, J.D.Kirk: This series is becoming dangerous in the extreme – I can no longer eat or drink while reading for fear of choking with laughter. The fact that it is also exciting and poignant is masterful.

Killing Jericho (Scott Jericho #1)

Will Harker, Killing Jericho: Great start to this with an unfamiliar (to me) setting of an ex-cop, ex-con fairground dweller drawn to look into a mysterious travellers’ legend, while fighting off flashbacks to one unsuccessful, traumatic case. It’s exciting, disturbing and mysterious, and one of those books where you’re not quite sure whom to trust – and you’d probably be right.

Murder at Christmas: Ten Classic Crime Stories for the Festive Season

Murder at Christmas: A collection of short stories by some of the classic greats – Sayers, Ellis Peters, Michael Innes, Margery Allingham – which makes for an excellent seasonal read, just perfect for a winter’s evening. The fact that I read it in April is not the fault of the book. I had read the Sayers one before but still enjoyed its curious menace, and the others were all excellent.

Orkney

Orkney, Amy Sackville: A curious, wistful book, the account (sort of from the professor’s point of view) of a honeymoon in a remote part of Orkney for a professor and his much younger, pale and distant student. In a series of vignettes the story of their relationship, brief though it has been, is told alongside their stay in a small cottage, their apparent devotion to each other, her secretive and odd behaviour, her nightmares. Gradually wistfulness turns to sorrow, to tragedy. You could say ‘He should have …’, ‘they should have …’, ‘if only …’ but no: this had to happen, in its lyrical language and wintry stormy stillness.

The Night Raids (Nighthawk #3)

The Night Raids, Jim Kelly: This is the third book in the series about a Cambridge policeman, scarred by the First World War, operating during the Second. With his sight damaged in the desert, and chronic insomnia, he likes to move about the city by night and swim in the river, and both these things, along with his wife’s work as a nurse, give him a particular insight into wartime Cambridge. There’s a unique, sepia atmosphere about these books, and a steady and well-written pace about them. This one has to do with looting with violence and two missing people who might be connected with it, set against a background of exhausted anxiety as Cambridge undergoes air raids and family members are overseas.

Miss Pym Disposes

Josephine Tey, Miss Pym Disposes: Is this a classic murder mystery, as the blurb describes it? I'm not sure it is - the 'murder' happens very close to the end. But it is a classic in terms of the way it builds suspense, examines situations and characters, develops relationships, even in a couple of weeks of book time. Remarkable writing. I’ve enjoyed several of Tey’s books before but for some reason missed this one.

The Tapestry Bag: A gripping mystery, full of twists and turns: Volume 1 (A Janie Juke mystery)

Isabella Muir, The Tapestry Bag: Set in the 1960s this begins as a missing person mystery: Janie’s friend disappeared from her house after her boyfriend died in a road accident, and though the police seem to have heard something about what is becoming a cold case, they won’t tell Janie anything. Janie, in the midst of pregnancy, mobile library work and supporting her husband and her blind father, is desperate to find a woman that no one else seems much concerned about. Rather a sad book about underachievement, but in the end a satisfying plot.

Life and Death in the Woods

Cecilia Peartree, Life and Death in the Woods: Max is a little like the delightful Christopher in the Pitkirtly books, but this has a more McCall Smith’s 44 Scotland Street feel to it – as well as ringing true of Edinburgh museum life. It’s a little darker, and the plot has more in the way of tragedy. Some of the characters Max has to deal with are unpleasant and difficult, though perhaps not the hand-knitted archivists! I liked Max very much, and I hope we might see more of him in the future.

The Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic (Shopaholic, #1)

The Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic, Sophie Kinsella: I had no sympathy for Rebecca, the shopaholic of the title, but I thought I could perhaps see the way the book was going, deliberately aiming her for redemption. She is feckless, spendthrift, selfish and superficial. By a quarter of the way through I wanted to slap her, and accompany her through the day so that she managed to control her lunatic spending and unrealistic lies. There is a bit of a subtext on the easiness of credit and the willingness of some financial bodies to let people get into debt, but it seemed a little understated. She has one redeeming moment, but then ruins it and careers along her own particular path to self-destruction – she needs help, and all she gets is money. Not a very satisfactory book for me.

Grimm Up North (DCI Harry Grimm, #1)

David J. Gatward, Grimm up North: When I started this I wasn’t at all sure it was the book I was expecting – the beginning is brutal. But in connexion with this brutality Grimm is sent to Yorkshire, and despite his conviction that nothing happens there, he is soon involved in a complicated crime. It’s funny, and clever, and slips stunning snippets of landscape (and food) into the narrative so we can see how Grimm is subtly entranced by his new surroundings. Think I’ll enjoy this series!

Country Cat Blues: A cosy mystery with a darkly funny edge (Cat Noir Series Book 2)

Alison O’Leary, Country Cat Blues: The follow up to the not-as-cosy-as-it-sounds Street Cat Blues, this is similarly slightly edgy with some dry humour, mostly directed at the awful inner city Sir Frank’s school. O’Leary skilfully blends this humour with some dark reflections on children in care, emotional dependency and fear of losing one’s home, all in a satisfying plot.

Who Killed Miss Finch?: A quirky whodunnit with a heart (Edward Crisp, #1)

Peter Boon, Who Killed Miss Finch?: I was in the mood for this, and the title gives nothing away you can’t guess in the first three or four pages. Indeed by then you are rather looking forward to the murder of Miss Finch (and you could throw in Gracie too), and you might even sit on the sidelines and cheer. This is a cosy set in an East Sussex coastal village, with an investigating team of the school librarian and his pupil assistant, both of them with their challenges in life. – rather touching and the set-up for a good series.

If you've made it this far, well done!

As to my own work in progress at present, it's in the tossing-ingredients-in-and-seeing-if-a-plot-comes-out stage. Who knows? Anyway, pick a book and enjoy!

Monday, 3 May 2021

Competition answers and results

 Good morning!

We have four winners for our little competitions last month, but first the answers to the questions!




1/ The three parishes that surround Ballater are Glenmuick, Tullich and Glengairn.

2/ Queen Victoria first visited Deeside in 1848 (see her journals online at www.queenvictoriasjournals.org).

3/ The Scottish Academy finally received its Royal Charter in 1838, after a few years of trying (see, inter alia, The Royal Scottish Academy by Esme Gordon, Edinburgh 1976)

4/ The Muckle Spate was indeed a great flood that happened on 3rd August, 1829. The widespread damage was wonderfully documented by Sir Thomas Dick Lauder in his book, The Muckle Spate of 1829

Well done to all those who turned up the right answers - some entrants scored full points!

But we have to have winners and so the straw bonnet was pulled out and names went in to be drawn out. All the winners have received an email but just in case you're looking here first, Question One was won by E, Question Two by Kelly, Question Three by Jenny, and Question Four by Markus. Congratulations to all of them!

Friday, 30 April 2021

Guest blog post: Mrs. Riach

 

Mrs. Riach, talented cook, has graciously condescended to an interview for the benefits of this blog, though of course we are forced to acknowledge that her time is short and she has better, much better, things to be doing than talking to us (please to remember a key point about Mrs. Riach’s charming dialect – the ‘f’ sound intrudes in place of the ‘wh’ of normal speech.)

Fit’s ’at? Ye’re wanting to speir me questions? Fie? I’ve no done a’thing wrong!

Ye’re wanting to interview me? Are you looking a cook, is that it? I’ll have you know my rates are high – I dinna go to work for just a’body, ken? And I’d want a good accommodation, generous days off, and regular hours. And no bluidy cats, pigs, nor bairns, ken?

Oh, aye, hens. Hens I can just thole, if they’re no in the hoose.

Fa am I fae? I’m fae this place, fae Ballater – well, Tullich, ken. My brother’s lad still bides there, useless cankert gapus that he is, and his woman little better. Aye, they’ve begged me to go and stay with them fae time to time, but I just canna handle it. I’m an honest working woman, ken?

Is that a decanter of brandy I see there ahint you? Could I trouble you, for my throat’s that parched I might never get through all your speiring. Aye, that’s grand – is that all there was? No, aye, up to the rim – that’ll be finey. Your good health.

Aye, I’ve worked in a few households about the three parishes. I’ve worked for two fine physicians, and a clergy and his sister – no fae the proper kirk, ken, but whiles decent enough, as far as a’body could tell, onywyes. And I’ve worked for a fine woman who had her own business – oh, she was braw! I liked fine working for her. She had the right ideas about a household, all under control and a few fine handsome boys about the place, forbye.

Oh, my, the state of my throat! But I canna help feeling yon brandy’s doing it good, ken? Oh, well, I dinna mind if I do – no, up to the rim again would be finey. It’d be a shame to waste the space. Your health.

But it seems I’m doomed to go back again to yon long-nebbit lassie, the doctor’s fancy Embra wifie. Fie he had to bring a quine back fae Embra is beyond me – had we no fine enough lassies up here to tempt him? I might have taken him masel if he’d asked me! But no, no, he brings yon one here, and the house has been like an asylum ever since. If it’s no strange men in the attic, it’s floods to the gate, and dogs under the kitchen table and dead birds in the parlour and dinner at fa kens fit time and cats, damned white cats like bluidy ghosts everywhere you look. And bairns! And have you met her relations?

Aye, it’s my throat again – the pain is fair making my eyes water. No, no, I can go on a bit yet, if there’s any more … aye, that’s lovely, right enough. Grand.

But it’s my duty to go back whiles and see yon Ishbel hasna burned the place down or destroyed my good pans. An’ young … fit’s the lad’s name … aye, Wullie. He’s no a lad bad – I mean a bad lad. He needs lookin’ after, that’s what he needs. An’ I need another of those fine wee glasses – I mean to say, you could barely fill a hole in your tooth with what’s in yon wee glass, could you? Aye, I’m sure I could manna … manage another yin …

The Napiers? Aye, that’s where I bide, ken. Is it? Fa was I last? See, whiles I get a wee bittie confused. I’ve been lost up on the moor more than the once, ken, for I’ve no sense of direction at all, and the moor – I’ve been lost up on the moor more than the once, did you ken? Chasing the white cats … or were they chasing me? White cats, everywhere. It’s no’ right, at all, is it?

And did I tell you about the white cats?

Where did you go? I wasna finished! Hi!

Och, well, it’s maybe time I had a wee nap before I make a start on the dinner. The fire’s fine and warm and this chair’s awfa comfy. Just make sure they white cats dinna come near me, ken?

 

 

Loch Muick

Loch Kinord

(date stamps, always sneaking on when you think you've switched them off ...)

The last day of Hippolyta Month – though there’ll be a couple of new articles going up on the website, probably tomorrow, in the Worlds section. But in the meantime, get your answers in for the competitions! For each question there’s a prize of a signed copy of one of my books (of your choice), a Lexie Conyngham mug (there are currently only four in the whole world!), your name in a future book (modified to make it ‘historical’ if necessary) and (if I can work out how to get them out) a promo code for the new audiobook of Tomb for an Eagle, read by Ulf Bjorklund. So (without further brackets) here are the four competition questions again:

1/ The books frequently make reference to the ‘three parishes’. What are they?

2/ When did Queen Victoria first make a visit to what would become Royal Deeside?

3/ Hippolyta is an artist, and interested in the new Scottish Academy in Edinburgh which stages the annual exhibition. When did the Academy receive its Royal charter?

4/ What was the Muckle Spate?

Winners to be announced on Monday, so you have all weekend to Google!

Thursday, 29 April 2021

Not dancing, but reading

 I had been going to do something about dancing today, but perhaps dance fits better with Murray - he really does love it. 

So instead, for the penultimate day of Hippolyta Month (I love the word penultimate, but peninsula is better. From the Latin, paene, almost, and insula, an island - and then we can play with all the languages that take that insula base and give us island - inch, insch, innis, innish, ynys, ile, iland, island ... don't get me started on ecclesia). For the penultimate day of Hippolyta Month, instead we'll have a bit about a book.



Here’s one of the books I have for Hippolyta research, Deeside, by the unusually named Alexander Inkson McConnachie. It’s a first edition from 1893, but it’s been reprinted a few times – this copy, to judge by the book plate, belonged to Alexander McDonald Munro (1860 – 1911), City Chamberlain in Aberdeen and member of the Scottish Society of Antiquaries. 



It is not he who has added helpful marginalia to some of the pages, though, but a later owner, Matthew Brown. 



It’s a handy little book for its grid of distances and list of railway stations (sadly all now closed barring Aberdeen itself) – a little late for Hippolyta, but the geography is lovely.


Wednesday, 28 April 2021

Food - a topic close to my heart

This is Stop Food Waste Day, and I'm ferocious about using up leftovers. But here's a recipe that's quite good for a glut of apples and some stale bread.

Particularly if you read the newsletter you'll know that Hippolyta is fond of her food, and she has been trying to learn a little about cookery along with her cook, Ishbel. I too am fond of a little light nourishment, and so it was no great hardship to select a recipe from Elizabeth Cleland's book, A New and Easy Method of Cookery, to try out for Hippolyta Month. I did try to avoid anything too peculiar ...

We've looked at the recipe for a Pupton of Pigeons in the newsletter (pupton is apparently from the French, poupeton, meaning a ragout or pate made from minced meat). We have a number of unfeasibly plump pigeons around here, but none of them was particularly interested in experimental cookery, so I flicked through to the pudding section and found instead a Pupton of Apples. Much safer!


Pare some Apples, take out the Cores, put them in a Sauce-pan, and chop them grosly;


to three Mutchkins of these Apples put in a Quarter of a Pound of Sugar, and two Spoonfuls of Water:



Put them on a slow Fire, keep them stirring, grate the rind of an 
Orange and Lemon in it:


When it is quite thick as Marmalade, let it stand till cold;


Then beat up the Yolks of four Eggs, 



(I had six mutchkins of apple so I assumed doubling the quantities here made sense) and stir in a Handful of grated Bread, and a Quarter of a Pound of sweet Butter:



Mix them all together (here sadly the Magimix had to come in as arthritic thumbs won't beat well any more!), form it into what Shape you please,


and bake in a slow Oven (Gas Mark 2, in my case. Note to self - don't get carried away melting down church candles to make prayer lights and forget the Pupton.)


(At some point, remove from oven. Cleland is always a bit vague about times and temperatures, not unreasonably.)



then put it on a Plate upside down, for a second Course or Supper.



Personally I think it looked better the other way up, but who am I to argue with Cleland? A dense, sweet cake, full of flavour, the consistency something like a chocolate brownie. It did not last long! One or two slices survived long enough to be paired with fresh natural yoghurt which was particularly good.

On Stop Food Waste Day I should tell you what happened to the odd bits and pieces! The rest of the apple was stewed with a little light caramelising and eaten for breakfast with more of the yoghurt. Peels and cores went into the compost. The egg whites could have been turned into meringues but I like meringues far too much and would have hoofed the lot, so instead they were whipped and added to the white sauce in a smoked fish pie with shredded kale and a sliced potato topping (that in itself included a few chips left over from a visit to the chip shop!).

Tuesday, 27 April 2021

Gardens and the fourth quiz question!

 


It’s National Gardening Week (so thank goodness for a bit of rain!), and both garden and allotment are showing signs of growth – in the case of the garden perhaps just a bit too much!

What your garden was like in Scotland in Hippolyta’s time very much depended on where you were in society, with one common feature: gardens for both rich and poor were intended to provide food for the household.

Hippolyta was delighted when she came to Ballater to have a garden – her Edinburgh home had little outdoor space attached to it and while the late Georgian city already had public parks and places to walk, it is not the same as having one’s one green place. It is, however, true that Hippolyta’s first thought on acquiring a kailyard, as the vegetable garden of humbler dwellings was called, was that she could keep hens. The second thought may well have been the pig.

Ballater is not blessed with the kind of climate that encourages the easy production of fruit and vegetables. Aberdeenshire in general is quite good for potatoes (which Hippolyta would certainly grow), rhubarb (still regarded mostly as a medicinal plant by the 1830s) and fruits such as raspberries, strawberries and currants. Peas, beans and onions will usually manage, though they prefer not to share a bed. Kail, of course, does quite well and was the standard crop for many a cottager – it has the virtue of being very nutritious and lasting through most of the winter. Rocket, too, is a good doer. Both these vegetables fell out of favour in the late Victorian period and the twentieth century but both have come back with a vengeance – with kail, it seems, all you really have to do is give it its Italian name and cavolo becomes delicious again!

It is in Ishbel’s interest, as the cook, to know what is available in the garden and use it well, and she would in a small establishment such as the Napier household do the harvesting herself. Wullie does the digging, of course, and helps put up strings to keep the hens off when the plants are vulnerable. But the hens have their work as well, picking out slugs and other tasty snacks that would otherwise harm the crops.

Larger gardens, particularly those of the gentry, could afford the space for hothouses and greenhouses. A large estate was absolutely necessary for growing pineapples, which were popular in Georgian gardening, as the glass frames for the pineapple houses had to be packed around with barrowloads of fresh horse manure to keep the temperature up. One small pony is not going to manage that!

The gentry could also afford to leave space for ornamental pleasure gardening. Here colour and scent were important, as well as designing pretty spots for sitting in sun or shade – Mrs. Kynoch has some room like this at Dinnet House, and the Strachans can also sit out in their garden, though both properties have vegetable gardens, too. A landowner interested in the latest novelties might perhaps purchase plants newly brought from abroad by the intrepid plant hunters, such as John Jeffrey, who explored North America while working for Edinburgh Botanic Gardens, and David Douglas, after whom the Douglas Fir is named, who after exploring North America in his turn died young in Hawaii. Both these men worked for institutions but richer landowners were not above sending their own men out to see what they could find – it was a tradition that continued into the twentieth century.

Hippolyta has little space for ornamental gardening: the space on either side of the path from the front door to the gate on to the green is her park, though the space is short for an afternoon’s stroll! There she has some roses, planted who knows when and mostly wild. Patrick is grateful for these and for the herb bed near his little dispensary, for a garden was also a physick garden and he can use rosewater and lavender water for his patients, distilling these and other delights in an alembic, a little still. If Ishbel were so inclined she could also use the rosewater in cookery.

Walter Nicol and Charles McIntosh both produced books on gardening in 19th century Scotland, Nicol in 1812 and McIntosh in the 1850s. Nicol encouraged food production and McIntosh for the most part ignored fashionable appearances and aimed for more general improvements. Yet plenty of Scottish landowners admired and tried to emulate the elegance of a Capability Brown or a Humphrey Repton – Haddo House in Aberdeenshire is surrounded by lengthy, enticing vistas and well-planted woodland.

By the end of the nineteenth century, gardening was becoming a hobby for the middle classes and not just a source of household food: increasing numbers of public parks and winter gardens encouraged the private gardener to try their hand, and horticultural societies offered mutual aid and competition. But that is a long way off for Hippolyta: she must just do what she can with her kitchen garden and her roses, and try to keep pig and chickens under control.


Now, then, here's the fourth competition question - answers to contact@kellascatpress.co.uk.

What and when was the Muckle Spate?