Read in your own language
Books by Dorothy Bruce
São Vicente is a village on the north coast of Madeira, at the end of the valley that was the birthplace of the island. We were keen to take our grandchildren to walk where lava once flowed, so organized Ricardo and his taxi to take us across the island from Funchal to São Vicente, on a road where the latter part was prone to landslips and where there had been bad flooding a few years ago.
We arrived at the Volcanism Centre and Caves of São Vicente with only a short time to wait until the next guided tour.
The centre provides visitors with audiovisual demonstrations of volcanic eruptions and the birth of an island as well as a walk through São Vicente’s volcanic caves, walking where lava once flowed.
The caves comprise a number of lava tubes, the result of a volcanic eruption four hundred thousand years ago. The area covered by the volcanic tubes is over 1000 meters in length, the largest that has been discovered to date on the island. Some of the tubes have been dug out, with the floors lowered, to allow exploration.
The last time we visited the caves the weather was dry but we were advised to wear light rain jackets because of drips coming through the ceilings. But apart from the odd plop of cold water on our heads the ground was dry and easy to walk on.
This time, there had been heavy rain prior to our arrival so it was wet underfoot with a few puddles, and many more drips from the roof. The plus side of this was that the underground pools of water looked more spectacular in the eerie lighting.
The walk through the mountain is around 700 metres long, taking around 30 minutes. I found it fascinating to see the striations and patterns left when the lava surged though, parts of it reminiscent of intricately carved cathedral roofs.
In places where there were lights plants grew, luminously green despite the lack of natural light, their seeds deposited by the water that seeps into the tubes through the rock above. The temperature here is fairly constant about sixteen degrees centigrade I seem to remember.
The pools we came across took our breaths away and caused bottlenecks on the narrow path as we all stopped to take photographs.
A truly amazing walk through the entrails of the earth during which visitors can admire volcanic stalactites, lava accumulations, known as ‘lava cakes’, and the ‘erratic block’ – a large boulder carried by the lava that, because of its size, became stuck in one of the lava channels.
Our grandchildren looked slightly apprehensive as it was the first time they had ventured underground, but I’m sure they’ll remember aspects of their trip with fascination.
The large mahogany table in the kitchen groaned with bowls and baskets of fruit, some, like tomatoes, staples of our diets at home though different varieties that seemed to have more flavour.
We trawled market and supermarkets for salad ingredients and experimented with some fruit and vegetables we weren’t familiar with. Bananas were Madeiran, slightly smaller, firmer and less cloying than those we usually buy, but with a flavour that filled your mouth. We ate lots, and I demolished one for breakfast every morning whilst sitting outside in the sun.
Daughter and her family are vegans and their meals are gluten-free. They came across sweet potatoes which were white rather than the orange fleshed ones usual here, and enjoyed them, baked, as part of their meal one evening. The fact the sweet potatoes were white explained something about which I’d wondered since, on previous December holidays in Madeira, coming across numerous stalls cooking and selling Bolo do Caco, a traditional bread. To me it looks and tastes like the large soda scones my mother used to make on her cast iron girdle (or griddle as it’s referred to outwith Scotland). The Bolo do Caco however has yeast in it and some versions are made with sweet potato. It is served warm, split and slathered with garlic butter.
We bought lots of them in the supermarkets, and found they made admirable sandwiches for the journey home when we missed out on dinner. Filled with salad and cheese they provided a meal that sustained us until we reached home.
Another new vegetable was one with a pale green skin, with deep folds, which when cut looked similar to a pear, but which had quite a crisp texture. Indeed vegetable pear is one of its many names, though more commonly referred to as Chayote. It’s a member of the gourd family, so related to melons, cucumbers and squashes. We ate it peeled and sliced into salads, but if we come across it again will be more adventurous in the way we use it. You can see it in the dish at the bottom right of the photo above of our fruit-laden kitchen table.
The other surprise was persimmons (also known here as Sharon fruit as they come from Israel), which again go by a variety of names and come in astringent (bitter) and non-astringent (sweet) types. They look something like a large tomato, and indeed that’s what I used the ones we had as, being told to eat them when very red. Despite squishing to pulp when cut they did add an interesting flavour our salads. Perhaps these were an astringent variety. However, since coming home I’ve been able to buy persimmons in my local supermarket where they are called kaki which is the Oriental or Japanese persimmon. These we are eating before they become red, and have the most wonderful peach flavour. I don’t even need to peel them. Hopefully the supermarket will keep stocking them as they are a fruit well worth buying, adding a touch of the exotic to winter fare.
When in Rhodes in June we were surprised by how good and cheap lamb dishes were, despite the bareness of the hills. We were assured there were sheep – further south. In the Scottish Borders sheep are everywhere, yet lamb is hardly plentiful in shops and is expensive. So it didn’t really come as a surprise when we found steak in Madeira (an island of volcanic rock and steep narrow terraces totally unsuited to cattle) was much cheaper to buy than at home in Scotland, famed for its beef. And that was despite the very significant drop in the pound against the Euro before we travelled. So naturally we made the most of it.
When, many years ago, my grandparents were organising a large party for their golden wedding my mother asked my grandmother if everything was as she wanted it. She admitted to being disappointed by only one thing. Her wedding had been a small affair and she had always dreamed of having a two-tier cake. So my mother assured her that for her golden wedding she would ensure the cake had two tiers. Funny the dreams we sometimes harbour! I wasn’t worried about the number of tiers, I just wondered how I’d manage to organise a cake, not being an item I could easily pack in my suitcase with all the other clutter I was taking.
However my daughter came to the rescue. She and her family are vegans and eat only gluten free food, so I was intrigued as to what our cake might be like. On the day, I was banished to read in the sun whilst daughter’s family took over the kitchen. Late afternoon a snack appeared – freshly roasted chestnuts.
Granddaughter Molly (six in a few more days) admitted she had been tasked with cutting a cross in the top of each but had found it too difficult so her dad had to help her.
Our lemon golden wedding cake was wonderful, sprinkled with gold edible glitter and topped with a heap of chocolate truffles. We demolished every last crumb, even though our main course of pork stuffed with cured ham and prunes had been filling (forgot a photograph of that, too).
Our second celebration a few days later was Molly’s sixth birthday for which her mum and dad produced a rich chocolate cake sprinkled with dried rose petals and topped with chocolate covered dates stuffed with lemon filling.
There are times when only one word is adequate. Mmmm!
A major celebration is always a time for reflection, for remembering people and occasions, quirks and sayings, events of significance and insignificance. Granny used to say… I can still see his face when… Do you remember the time we went to…? That’s something I’ll always remember, especially when the idiot…
So reflections were on my mind as well as lips during our stay in Madeira. Some were prompted by one of my inputs to the celebration, the book of memories, photographs and stories I had produced that gave a flavour of our fifty years and more together. Photographs of people even I had never known to be passed down to the next generations, or those of our engagement party and wedding, of the family when young, and more recently of our daughter’s wedding, laced with stories in which parts of my own life, my feelings and experiences, were reflected.
For the occasion we had rented a quinta on the outskirts of Madeira. After much discussion husband and I agreed a celebration in the sun won hands down over one in dreary November weather at home. Besides, rather than a one evening or one day celebration, it allowed us to extend it to eleven days – and why not.
The quinta was impressive but quirky, idiosyncratic, just what we wanted as a backdrop to our reflections of fifty years.
Built by the owner thirty years ago as a family home on a terraced site that was part of the banana plantation belonging to his family, the quinta was furnished in traditional Madeiran style, albeit in probably a rather grander scale than what most of the island’s inhabitants probably lived with. But this gave us impressive surrounding in which to celebrate, with its large mahogany tables seating a dozen in both kitchen and open plan dining area where a crystal chandelier provided sparkle and light. It was one of three in the spacious area of dining room, entrance area and hall, with its 300-year old doors from a demolished church, and the impressive lounge area.
In the upstairs hall was another seating area with doors leading out onto a balcony with day bed seating. Bedrooms were huge and en suite bathrooms large enough to hold parties in comfort.
As part of the reflections theme I grabbed the opportunity to take photographs of the enormous and intricately framed mirrors around the rooms, fascinated by seeing the spaces from a different aspect. It’s strange how that can show something different from what your eyes see, or what you expect. A bit like reversing an image or photograph and how it can make the subject look very different, or more intriguing, prompting questions about what lies beyond.
Our celebration in the sun provided an opportunity to spend time with our family and get to know our grandchildren better. What better way to spend a golden wedding!
It began as a card for my husband to mark a significant milestone, our special anniversary, but a card seemed insufficient to cover fifty years of marriage. So I wondered about a double card but wasn’t sure how I could make that work with two folded sheets of photographic paper, but went ahead anyway.
The double card prompted thoughts of a small booklet which I could have printed, so I pressed on. In the end the card turned out to be a 220 page, A5 book, printed on good paper. A brief memoir (which will have missed out lots), full of black and white and coloured photographs covering the period and more, truncated family trees, and pieces of my writing (including short stories and a chapter from a recent book) in which I’d used vivid memories and experiences that lingered in my mind. All put together in a week as it had to be delivered from the printer before we went off to Madeira for our big family celebration. More on that in another post.
The finished books (limited edition, with one copy for each of the family) added considerable kilos to my cabin luggage (just as well Easyjet didn’t weigh it). The gold candles, tea lights and holders, napkins and table decorations were in another heavy case in the hold.
As we enjoyed a glass of sparkling stuff in the lounge of our quinta prior to our meal on the big day I handed out a book, wrapped appropriately in gold paper) to each of my family.
Hopefully, they and our grandchildren will enjoy leafing through their copy, dipping in to read pieces, exclaiming at photographs of people they never knew but whose genes help make them the people they are.
That was one of my contributions to the celebration. And I’m rather chuffed with the end result.
Oh, and by the way, the original card which became the book cover was still used as a card for my husband. And he did me a delightful one too.
Here comes winter. The clock has changed and we’re in the count-down to Christmas, though many shops have been sneaking festive fare into their displays for the past month and more. But with Halloween over, and a free run until December 25th (though here in Scotland we have St Andrew’s day on November 30th, with Thanksgiving in the States) retailers will be ramming presents, food and what to wear for those wall-to-wall parties (what parties, we huddle by the fire here!) and that all-important big day.
November the first, and surprisingly it’s been another lovely day here.
Mild for the time of year though colder today, and as frosts until now have been few and far between late-flowering plants are still blooming in our country garden with a backdrop of turning leaves on the beech hedge and a blaze of golden yellow on the beech tree at the foot of the garden.
Such a joy to see plants still in bloom as it lessens the dead period of winter ruled by bare branches, rotting leaves, and the skeletons of shrubs.
But it isn’t just flowers providing colour. Plants with different shapes and colours of leaves add real interest at this time of year. It has taken us years to get many of them established, but now on the first day of November I can feel my spirits rise as I look out my kitchen window and enjoy the array of colours.
So I couldn’t stop myself marching outside with my camera to capture some of this late bounty. As well as being a pleasure to look at during dreary monochrome winter months, my photographs are reminders of shapes and colours, places, objects and quirks of light that I can draw on in my writing to add authenticity to the settings for my characters.
Something noticed, captured in a photograph, the image inserted in words into a story for others to relive the experience. This year’s November the first will last into the future.
As I stay far from shops I have become a great fan of online shopping. This of course means buying without trying on, so I’ve had to think harder about what styles suit and what colours would work with other clothes in my wardrobe.
Until fairly recently I haven’t had a problem with clothes shopping, as I seemed to be around average height. So skirts were the length I wanted and sleeves were made for the length of my arms. From a few shops I’d passed I knew some taller people experienced problems, but was content in my averageness.
But now things have changed dramatically. Despite those around me appearing to be of similar heights to me, the odd tall, lank beanpole being the stand-out exception, I now find I and those around me are no longer average. Models posing in online shops have become the new average it seems. Some sites helpfully give the height of the model in the image. Five foot ten seems the norm. This is a full six and a bit inches taller than me, taller than what used to be the five foot four average.
So I know if the dress or skirt is described as knee length and that’s where it comes to on the model, that on me the same item would be mid calf. Some online stores give the length. I almost wrote ‘helpfully give the length’ but sizing matters are never quite so simple. The length given is for the model’s UK size eight or ten, with a note that the length for other sizes will vary accordingly. Hmmm! Why do they think larger sizes are necessarily taller? I’m left in the dark to work out how much my larger size might add to the length as no indication is given. So mid calf could well become ankle length. Of course some stores merely give an image and brief description, leaving the would-be purchaser totally in the dark about whether the item might fit or drown, be practically tripped up by the skirt length or with hands that disappear to the elbow of lengthy sleeves.
A few manufacturers have opted to introduce ‘petite’ ranges. It took me a while to come to terms with the fact my mature, once average, curvaceous figure is now regarded as petite – not a description I would ever have applied to myself. So, having at length sussed this out, I thought I could relax when ordering online, certain of garments that fitted. But celebrations were premature. While jackets are a more appropriate length instead of making me look like a 1950s Teddy Boy, and my hands are free to move as the sleeves are a shorter length, I still have a problem with skirts.
You see, manufacturers appear to believe that those now classed as petite should wear their skirts mid calf – a length I hate and which does little for the rest of me. The measurements of the recently average woman have been shredded with some new mid calf standard imposed on us. It’s enough to make me wear nothing but trousers.
Trousers – now there’s another problem. While some marvellous stores do sell trousers and leggings in three different lengths — 29, 31 and 33 inch, others merely sell trousers or leggings, leaving us to buy and find out the hard way that their trousers are made for giraffes and not newly petite women.
Naturally I have suggested to some online suppliers that more information on lengths would see more satisfied customers and fewer returns, but so far none have deigned to respond, leaving me to think they are only interested in the new five foot ten average and not us former averages now relegated to petites.
Is it just me, or does any other woman have problem with the length of clothes?
When you hail from a country where summers rarely reach dizzying heights of temperature (more often a breezy mix of sun and cloud and the occasional shower) eating in the open air is a fairly rare experience, especially when it comes to evening meals. As the sun goes down the dew falls, making it chilly to sit outside, and more often than not the pesky midges appear to make the occasion a misery rather than a pleasure. So one of the real joys of trips abroad is being able to enjoy evening meals in open air restaurants, dressed in short sleeved tops or dresses, without even having to think of taking a cardigan. As for an umbrella, forget it. During summer in the islands of the Aegean the sun reigns.
In Pefkos we were spoilt for choice when it came to restaurants, so we chose those not showing football (the Euros were on so football tension was in the air and many bars and restaurants had large screens on which games could be watched), those offering food that appealed, especially dishes with a Greek flavour (prices in most restaurants were fairly similar with a few exceptions), and those with atmosphere by the cart load. Later we added another criteria: warm, friendly staff.
So here are some of the surroundings where we whiled away our evenings and stored up memories as the sun set, darkness fell, candles were lit, and paving stones radiated heat stored during the day. Music, often plucked on a mandolin for that extra Greek touch, played in the background, never so obtrusive that you couldn’t conduct a conversation, but sufficient to add to that all-important atmosphere.
Some diners turned up in shorts and T-shirts, but most grabbed the opportunity for casual dressing-up in dresses, maxi dresses, or trousers and eye-catching tops. Some even hirpled along the uneven roads in strappy, four-inch heel sandals, though the sane opted for footwear more suited to outdoor dining in a village resort.
Pushchairs with toddlers were numerous as were under school-age children (this was June, before schools broke up for the summer). Greeks retain a sense of family as well as a sense of history. So as soon as diners with children appeared there was a rush to bring a highchair (usually a smart, bright multi-coloured one) and the menu for children who were made as welcome as the adults. The history bit is evident in many of the older properties that are not sold but passed down to the next generation.
One of the restaurants we visited numerous times was set in the garden of a traditional house. The small house had been transformed into the kitchen of the restaurant.
The restaurant owners could only rent the space as the house owners wanted to keep the property in the family. A far cry from how homes are acquired and disposed of in much of the UK. Probably, too, the reason for many derelict properties in Rhodes as the next generation might want to renovate or build anew on the site incorporating something of the original house into the new. So, a sense of family, a sense of history, a sense also of belonging to a particular place where faces are well-known and families go back generations, rooted in the rocky land.
The same applies to land. The wife of one restaurant owner told us she stayed in a modern house which incorporated her old family home and that would be passed on to her daughters. Her father had given her three small pieces of land with olive trees, about a hundred in all.
When the restaurant closes in October the olives will be picked, a time-consuming and difficult task, she told us. Then they have to be cured and fermented, before being covered in brine ready for eating or storing. The green olives we enjoyed bowls full of in the restaurant were from her family olive trees that would be passed on to her family. As all the olives we tasted were slightly different, individual flavours with added secret ingredients instead of often bland mass produced, no doubt this is a common practice.
Amazing how much you can learn about a country from its food and its restaurants.
Recently, husband and I were pleased to receive an invitation to a book launch, not in the tented village of the Edinburgh book festival, but not far from it in Waterstones, the well-known book shop, at the West End of Princes Street. Lin Anderson, Tartan Noir crime novelist and co-founder of the Bloody Scotland crime writing festival, was launching another book – None but the Dead – about her forensic pathologist Rhona MacLeod, the action of this book taking place on the small Orkney island of Sanday.
Lin’s book launch took place in the cafe area of the bookshop where we managed to bag good seats before the place filled, and sat sipping glasses of Prosecco, welcome on a hot afternoon.
Lin spoke of where the idea for her latest book had come from, all the while greeting people whose faces she recognised. As she spoke she mentioned her experts, many of them in her audience, people she relied on for information for her books. A pathologist, a soil expert, those knowledgeable on local history and customs, fishermen with an understanding of tides and boat hiding places, someone with expertise on buried and hidden bodies, and numerous others, with mention of an expert at Dundee University who reconstructs faces from skulls. Her book acknowledges a list of those providing information to her and to whom she sends appropriate pieces of her manuscript for checking.
Many authors manage to draw a coterie of such people around them, providing information without which the books could not be written in such a detailed and authentic manner – the smell of death, the cutting and sawing procedures followed at post mortems, the painstaking process of gathering and sifting forensic evidence for clues of how the victim died and who might have been responsible. The details that often add stomach-churning horror are carefully researched.
Even in our time of Internet knowledge at our fingertips, experts have become increasingly necessary as sometimes publishers allow errors to slip though the editorial net. I once heard a well-known author tell that after the publication of his highly acclaimed book (shortlisted for international prizes) he was told by a reader that the game which formed a significant part of his historical novel, had not been devised until many years after his book action took place. So without expert consultation gaffes can bedevil even established writers.
To reach the stage where it’s possible to have a team of experts to provide necessary information is a huge benefit. I know I have often struggled with facts or lack of them. What would happen if…? What’s the procedure for that? I’ve written what I think might happen but have I got it right? One of the reasons many writers find it easier to follow the old advice – write what you know about. So we choose scenarios with which we at least have some knowledge and understanding, though we must not allow this to inhibit us from pushing our writing boundaries through research and use of our imagination.
When I began to write it dawned on me just how little I knew about even quite basic stuff in the world around me. And yes, the Internet is an invaluable resource but with many things there is no substitute for consulting with those who are expert in their field.
I guess as writers become better known it becomes easier to attract help, though some, judging by acknowledgement pages, are lucky enough to have family and close friends to provide the expertise. Lin Anderson, for instance, had a head start in crime novels as her father was in the police so opening the door to contacts there.
Now what do my family and friends excel in?
Once again the tents have gone up in Edinburgh’s Charlotte Square, the walkways laid, bookshop and bars stocked, hospitality spaces decked with tubs of flowers, toilets positioned, and the central area supplied with watching-the-world-go-by chairs for some of the throngs anticipated.
The International Book Festival is underway, running for over two weeks and hosting over 750 events. The book festival vies for attention while the Edinburgh International Arts Festival, the Military Tattoo and the Fringe are also in full swing, attracting hundreds of thousand of visitors to the city. Last year the Fringe alone featured 50,459 performances of 3,314 shows in 313 venues during its 25 days.
Husband and I had received an invitation to a book launch, not in the tented village of the book festival, but not far from it in Waterstones, the well-known book shop, at the west end of Princes Street. More about that in another post.
We left ourselves plenty time for during festival time parking is non existent and roads can be gridlocked, so we had almost an hour to wander along George Street, much of which has been closed to traffic to accommodate open air cafes.
The street’s Georgian architecture provides a classical backdrop to a tented area where artificial grass covers the tarmac of the road, and cars are replaced by tables and chairs.
George Street is a mixture of upmarket shops and businesses and residential accommodation, part of Edinburgh’s 250 year old New Town, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Some of the bars bear the names of whisky brands – a high profile setting for them in a busy main thoroughfare closed for the festival, with cars and buses diverted.
Though neither is food forgotten.
Amongst the bars and cafes sit two mobile cinemas, one modern, one from the 1960s that had been driven up from Bicester near Oxford to show old film footage.
In the centre of the road stands a large horse’s head, similar in style but smaller than the thirty metre high Kelpies sculptures designed by Andy Scott, that form a gateway at the eastern entrance to the Forth and Clyde canal near Falkirk. The Kelpies commemorate and celebrate our horse-powered heritage, while the head in George Street was commissioned by Hamilton and Inches, a famous jewellers, to celebrate 150 years of business in Scotland’s capital city.
From George Street we wander round to Princes Street for the book launch, and afterwards stroll along towards the Mound to catch a bus, taking a photo of the Church of Scotland Assembly Rooms on the Mound…
and another view of the castle that sits on its rock like an elderly grand dame and her retinue watching over her subjects scurrying below.