Friday Reads: 44 Scotland Street, a Scottish Delight!

Friday Reads: 44 Scotland Street, a Scottish Delight!

posted in: Books, British, Entertainment | 2 | This post may contain referral links. See privacy policy for more.

I discovered the 44 Scotland Street series while listening to Confessions of A Serial Novelist by Alexander McCall Smith, an obscure audio offering in the OneClickdigital App. I downloaded it because I had read The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency some years earlier and was curious to hear what nuggets of wisdom such a successful author as McCall Smith might have to share.

The recording turned out to be a one hour lecture given in New York City in 2006 and featured more humor than substantive advice on how to succeed as a novelist. (Although, perhaps that is a good lesson in itself. Perhaps humor is the secret to success as a novelist?) The highlight of the lecture came at the end: an excerpt from the second 44 Scotland Street novel: Espresso Tales.

44 Scotland Street takes place in Edinburgh. Pictured above is <a href="http://www.edinburghcastle.gov.uk/" target="_blank">Edinburgh Castle</a>, one of many Edinburgh landmarks mentioned in the series.
44 Scotland Street takes place in Edinburgh. Pictured above is Edinburgh Castle, one of many Edinburgh landmarks mentioned in the series.

The passage was about a six-year-old boy named Bertie whose mother forces him to learn Italian and play tenor saxophone. This was interesting. I immediately checked the app for the 44 Scotland Street audiobook and downloaded it. While the passage McCall Smith read focused on Bertie, the series features a much larger cast of characters, some of whom are listed here on his website.

The first book of the series focuses primarily on the residents of the building the book is named after. (While Scotland Street is a real street in Edinburgh, there is no number 44.) There is Pat, a young girl of 20 on her 2nd gap year, working as a receptionist at an art gallery. Pat’s flatmate is Bruce, a rugby shirt-wearing narcissist with a passion for hair gel who works as a surveyor (real estate appraiser in the US). Across the hall is Domenica: world-wise anthropologist, widow, advisor to Pat, and friend to Angus. Angus lives on a neighboring street: a 50-something portrait painter and companion to Cyril, a beer and coffee-drinking dog with a gold tooth.

There’s also Matthew, the somewhat dejected owner of the art gallery Pat works at, who often enjoys long coffee breaks at Big Lou’s. Before Big Lou purchased Big Lou’s, it had been a bookshop. After the purchase, Lou moved all the remaining book inventory to her residence. She reads them whenever she is not running her coffee bar, giving rise to thoughtful and occasionally spirited philosophical discussions over coffee with customers.


With all the characters and funny storylines, I am reminded of Julian Fellowes and Downton Abbey. The books are fun to binge on, another thing in common with Downton Abbey! I discovered the series in August, four months ago, and I am already on the fourth book of the series: The World According to Bertie.

I have plenty more to say about the books, their author, and the narrator of the audiobooks, Robert Ian Mackenzie, but I will save it for a later post. For now, I will leave you with this interview with Alexander McCall Smith that I discovered from The Guardian. In it, he discusses the 44 Scotland Street series in his usual light-hearted and modest style. Happy Friday!

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Friday Tunes: British Boppers

Friday Tunes: British Boppers

posted in: Entertainment, Music | 1 | This post may contain referral links. See privacy policy for more.

We made it through another week and we need some songs to get pumped for the weekend.

Mac has recently rediscovered the greatness of Adele’s 19, so her Friday Tune is Tired.

 

Sticking with the British theme, Al has picked a Tears for Fears classic song to sing along to, Shout.

 
We hope you have a great Friday!

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Woof Trekking Dispatch #14: Our Visit to Savannah, Georgia, January 2013

Woof Trekking Dispatch #14: Our Visit to Savannah, Georgia, January 2013

posted in: Dispatches, On the Road, Woof Trekking | 0 | This post may contain referral links. See privacy policy for more.

After we visited the Outer Banks, we continued our journey down the East Coast and ended our trip in Savannah, Georgia.

Our Visit to Savannah

One of our favorite cities we passed through was Charleston, South Carolina where we went to our very first Piggly Wiggly grocery store. Here is a photo of us near White Point Garden. We had to keep driving, but the city seemed full of southern cosmopolitan charm.
Our Visit to Savannah
Savannah is a very interesting city and has a lot of history. James Oglethorpe travelled to the Americas in 1732 and established the Georgia colony for the British. His arrival to the south was important because he was an agriculturist and on his boat he brought several types of seeds to test on an experimental farm in America. One of the seeds he brought with him that was very successful was cotton, thus establishing cotton farms in the south.

Our Visit to Savannah
James Oglethorpe, more on this statue in a bit.

We drove through the city and then stopped for lunch at The Pirates’ House, this restaurant was very intriguing. It is located in an old historic building that was built around 1753 as inn for sailors who came to the burgeoning Savannah seaport. The building sits on land that used to be part of the experimental farm that James Oglethorpe established. ?
Our Visit to Savannah
After lunch, we wanted to explore with our dogs and the city of Savannah is very dog friendly. There are a multitude of Squares (24 to be exact), which are like miniature parks, in the Historic District that are all within walking distance of each other.


The first Square we visited was Chippewa Square. In the center of this Square is the James Oglethorpe Monument. The square was built around 1815 and in 1910 the Monument was added. The Square is named after the Battle of Chippewa in Canada where the Americans defeated the British in 1812.
Our Visit to Savannah
This Square is also an important part of American History, as it is where a significant portion of Forrest Gump was filmed. The monument is visible behind Tom Hanks in every bench scene.

 
There is a replica of the bench at the Savannah History Museum, however, we didn’t get a chance to see it.
Our Visit to Savannah
While the bench is no longer there, we did sit on a bench in Chippewa Square and that was pretty exciting!
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We spotted this beautiful flower in Chippewa Square that we had never seen before. This is a Japanese Camellia (Camellia japonica) and can be found across the south. It is the state flower of Alabama.
Our Visit to Savannah
In all the parks, the giant trees are draped in Spanish moss. It was so beautiful, we had to take a photo.
Our Visit to Savannah
The next area we visited was Forsyth Park. When it was originally built in the 1840s and was only 10 acres, but now it is a massive 30 acres. We only explored the north end where the Forsyth Fountain is located. The fountain was built in 1858.
Our Visit to Savannah
Two blocks north of Forsyth Park is Monterey Square which was built in 1847 and is named in honor of the capture of Monterey, Mexico in 1846 by the Americans. The home of Jim Williams, of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil fame, is located on the west side of the square. The home is known as the Mercer-Williams House. The focal point of this Square is the Casimir Pulaski Monument. Casimir Pulaski was born in Poland and was a revolutionary for both Poland and America. In Poland he fought for the freedom of Poland against the Russians and when their uprising failed, he took the advice of Benjamin Franklin and came to America to help the British in the American Revolutionary War.

This panel on the Monument depicts how Pulaski was killed during the Siege of Savannah. He led an American cavalry unit into battle however he was mortally wounded and the British won this battle.
Our Visit to Savannah
After grabbing some ice cream at Leopold’s, we departed Savannah and ventured out to Tybee Island, a barrier island east of the Savannah. We arrived just in time to see the sun set which resulted in a beautiful scene.
Our Visit to Savannah
It was incredibly windy and cold while we walked on the beach. However, the view and crashing waves made Tybee Island extremely memorable.
Our Visit to Savannah
We hope you enjoyed this little sampling of Savannah. It is a beautiful city that we definitely hope to visit again. Happy Thursday!

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Going Bodmin for Doc Martin

Going Bodmin for Doc Martin

posted in: British, Entertainment, Television | 5 | This post may contain referral links. See privacy policy for more.

Doc Martin is among my favorite television shows of all time. Part medical drama, part comedy, part quirky British gem, Doc Martin is set in the fictional town of Portwenn, Cornwall.

The character of Doc Martin was originally born in the 2000 movie, Saving Grace, starring Vera‘s Brenda Bleythen, and former The Late Late Show host, Craig Ferguson. However, the Doc Martin of television fame, played by Martin Clunes, is completely different from his original big screen inspiration.

I first came upon Doc Martin while channel surfing. I saw a burly plumber resting and chatting away while his son fixed the plumbing and a man in a suit with piercing blue eyes and plump cheeks interrogated them in a rather rude way. The burly plumber was in no way disturbed by the man in the suit and the son was not disturbed by his father’s apparent slothfulness. Everyone was in their little own world; this was interesting television.

doc-martin-review

The plumbers turned out to be Al and Bert Large and the man in the suit was Doc Martin himself. But those three characters are only a small part of the big cast of Doc Martin. There is also Louisa Glasson, played by Caroline Catz, an elementary school teacher and Doc Martin’s long-suffering true love. Mrs. Tischell, played by Selina Cadell, is the town’s pharmacist whose zealous obsession with Doc Martin is apparent to all but her beloved.

Not to be forgotten are Doc Martin’s aunts: first Joan, played by Stephanie Cole, a farmer and later bed and breakfast proprietor through series 5; then Ruth, played by Eileen Atkins, a retired psychiatrist for the criminally insane whose dry wit adds a lot to the show. Both Ruth and Joan act as emotional touchstones for Martin, to whom social niceties and nuances are often viewed as irrelevant until he has a word with one of these matriarchs.

There is also the town’s policeman: Mark Mylow, played by Stewart Wright, in series 1-2, and then Joe Penhale, played by John Marquez, since series 3. Both police constables have a knack for incompetence at the worst possible moment. Lastly, there is Doc Martin’s assistant, played by Lucy Punch, Katherine Parkinson, and most recently, Jessica Ransom. The assistant is always a local girl whose big personality strikes a strong contrast with the Doc’s more stuffy and formal nature.


Doc Martin used to be available to watch for free as a perk of Amazon Prime membership and with that, I was able to watch seasons 1-5. Unfortunately, Amazon has since removed Doc Martin from it’s Prime list, probably due to it’s popularity. Luckily, last Christmas, I received the box set of Doc Martin from Costco, and Season 7 from Acorn TV before it aired on our local PBS station. That was a real treat.

Season 8 is set to air in 2017. It is supposed to be the final season, which of course is sad, but the show has really progressed over the seven seasons so far and it does seem it would be a good place to wrap up the series. The conflict between Doc Martin and Louisa can be quite wearisome to watch, perhaps because it is too much like real-life.

That being said, Doc Martin is a must-watch for any fan of quirky British television. It has changed my life for the better, allowing me to spend hours doubled over in laughter at the antics of life in a tiny town in Cornwall.

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Professing Our Love for The Great British Bake Off

Professing Our Love for The Great British Bake Off

posted in: British, Entertainment, Television | 0 | This post may contain referral links. See privacy policy for more.

The Great British Bake Off (or as it is known in the US, the Great British Baking Show) is an amazing television show. If you are unfamiliar, you might have guessed it is all about baking. In the US, it is shown on PBS and depending on where you live, you may have already seen series 6, are currently watch series 6, or your local PBS station hasn’t shown it yet. Our station just started showing it last week.

We started watching the show in 2013 after hearing about it in an interview with Tom Mison who was getting ready to star in Sleepy Hollow (another of our favorite shows). Immediately, we fell in love with GBBO as we increased our tea consumption and learned many new words not frequently used in the US such as courgette, sultanas, Stilton, and caster sugar.

the-great-british-bake-off-review

The Basics

Each series, or season as we call it in the US, has 10-13 contestants from all over the United Kingdom who are home bakers. Each episode consists of a Signature Challenge, Technical Challenge and Showstopper Challenge. The contestants know what the Signature Challenge and Showstopper Challenge will be prior to the weekend that they congregate in the tent. Contestants can practice and perfect it by baking it several times during the week, while the Technical Challenge is an unknown recipe chosen by one of the judges.

What Makes It Special

The Great British Bake Off is unlike any American competitive cooking show. The typical formula for an American competitive cooking show involves one part drama, one part backstabbing and one part acting. In this amazing show, the only drama comes from you sitting at home, crossing your fingers hoping the bakes come out just right. There is no backstabbing or acting, though there was a little thing called #bingate back in 2014. (We should also mention that there was an attempt at an American equivalent called The American Baking Competition, hosted by Jeff Foxworthy, which only lasted one season in 2013. It was not as good.)

Paul Hollywood is the dark and mysterious judge. You can’t tell what he is thinking behind the steel blue eyes; this makes the contestants cringe and makes us laugh. Mary Berry is the other judge that is like an eclectic grandma; you aren’t entirely sure what she is going to say and likes to drop some innuendos every once and awhile.

The hosts, Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins, are hilarious. We discovered, after some internet research, that they met while going to Cambridge and have been working together for over 20 years. This long time partnership is evident when they play off each other. They are also very punny, which is totally our kind of humor.

The Future?

Yesterday, we saw that the BBC lost the rights to air the series after the current series 7. This news struck fear into our hearts but Love Productions, the company that makes the show, has apparently signed a three year deal with Channel 4. Phew! This article also says that the first show on the new channel will be a celebrity edition, which sounds intriguing. We just hope that PBS will continue to air our beloved GBBO!

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The Tunnel Series 1 Review: Grim UK-France Crossover with a Quality Detective Partnership

The Tunnel Series 1 Review: Grim UK-France Crossover with a Quality Detective Partnership

posted in: Entertainment, Television | 1 | This post may contain referral links. See privacy policy for more.

The Tunnel recently wrapped up on our local PBS station. The following is our reveiw; it has some slight spoilers, but nothing major. It should be just enough to give you a basic flavor for the 10 episode series.

The show starts at the midpoint of the Chunnel (aka The Channel Tunnel) where a body is found half on the UK side and half on the French side. The Tunnel is based upon the Swedish-Danish show Bron/Broen. There was also an American-Mexican version that we had not previously heard of called The Bridge. All three series start with this premise.

Clemence Poesy is transformed from enchanting part-Veela Fleur Delacour of Harry Potter fame to Elise Wassermann, a cold, cerebral French cop with a hint of Rain Man about her. This was our first meeting with Stephen Dillane who plays Poesy’s English counterpart, Karl Roebuck. Dillane too has a Harry Potter connection, with his son, Frank, playing Tom Riddle in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. Roebuck’s wife, Laura, is played by Angel Coulby who we know and love as Guinevere from Merlin!


The antagonist of the series is a vigilante who torments citizens of both countries with violence supposedly justified as an attempt to illustrate the inequality of society. At first, the murders seem political, impersonal, and even pseudo-altruistic, but as the series progresses, the killer’s motive is revealed to have a much more personal origin.

While The Tunnel has some rather grim and depressing moments, its redeeming factor is the relationship between the easygoing, sociable Roebuck and the reserved, occasionally haughty Wassermann. By the end of the series, these two main characters are no longer such simple cutouts, but complex emotional creatures, fragility exposed and tragedy overcome. We look forward to the second series.

the tunnel

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The Cuckoo’s Calling: A Classic British Mystery with an Expert Ending

The Cuckoo’s Calling: A Classic British Mystery with an Expert Ending

posted in: Book Reviews, Books, Entertainment, Writing | 0 | This post may contain referral links. See privacy policy for more.

This is a review of the audiobook version of The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith, a pseudonym for J.K. Rowling, read by Robert Glenister.

Set among many rich, shiny people, as well as some grubby underlings who aspire to fame and wealth, The Cuckoo’s Calling centers around a private detective named Cormoran Strike. Strike is the illegitimate son of a rock star and a “super groupie.” He took up his gig as a private sleuth after part of his leg was destroyed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan where he was serving in the SIB (the British military police).

The Cuckoo’s Calling is a classic mystery. Consistent with the genre, it is not a particularly happy book, considering it’s dealing primarily with crime and death. (The main exception would be the “cozy mystery” which can tend to be quite cheerful, e.g. Father Brown, Miss Marple, or Grantchester. So, if you are looking for a light-hearted sunny read, consider those alternatives.) The ending is quite good with an unexpected surprise, which accounts for a lot when it comes to mysteries.

There is plenty of profanity throughout The Cuckoo’s Calling. If reading the physical book, this can easily be skimmed over but when listening to the audiobook, it can sometimes feel like a verbal assault. But beyond that, the characters are well drawn and the plot kept me guessing throughout, as you would expect from a seasoned author like Rowling.

I am nearly a third of the way through the second book in the series: The Silkworm. As soon as I finish, I will post a review. The Silkworm is set in the world of agents and publishers, including some “indie authors.” So far I am enjoying it quite a bit more than The Cuckoo’s Calling, but will wait until the end to say anymore.

In the coming days, we will be writing a couple more posts related to Cuckoo’s Calling, including how J.K. Rowling explores human nature in her writing, as well as the narration style of Robert Glenister.


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Review: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

Review: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

posted in: Entertainment, Television | 0 | This post may contain referral links. See privacy policy for more.

 

I did not intend to watch Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.

But on a whim, I decided to give the show a shot after Orphan Black.

I had some concerns about the dark filmography in the opening minutes, but soon it became apparent that the true color in the show came from the dynamic characters.

I have the book on hold from the library though it is quite a long read.

I love a good television series based on a book series, as I have previously blogged about.

Here is my take on this fantastic mini-series:

Two Magicians: Toad and Otter

At the beginning of the series, Norrell is such a sour character ruled by fear and insecurity, trying to control magic (and perhaps life in general) through order and secrecy. He attempts to shield himself from life, preferring the company of his books.

He resembles a sour toad (perhaps due to his wig?), always frowning and saying “No, no, no!” to Strange, like a strict parent with a petulant child.

Strange could not be more the opposite. He is happy, childlike and full of wonder.

While Norrell is like a frowny toad splashing about in a puddle of mud, Strange is like an otter, playful and curious, frolicking in a flowing river. The Norrell-Strange dynamic is classic old school vs. new school.

Strange follows his intuition and trusts (perhaps too easily) while Norrell believes he has seen it all and knows it all.

Magicians Develop

Slowly but surely through the episodes, tension builds between the magicians. But by the finale, you can see what has always been there. They need each other.

It was spectacular. Norrell finally lets his hair down, or at least his wig becomes wildly out of sorts. He is completely transformed. In a way, he seems restored to a younger version of himself – more carefree and open to adventure.

Strange shows him the lighter side of life and Norrell shares his wisdom with Strange. It really is a bit of a bromance between them.

But more than that, Norrell is such a symbol for how many of us are living today.

We should be so lucky to encounter a character such as Strange to inspire us to live life to the fullest again.

The Triumph of “Minor” Characters (Transformations are not just for Magicians)

Watching the transformation of Drawlight and Lascelles was quite a delight. They seemed to be such minor characters at the onset of the series, but developed into pivotal characters by the final episode of the series. It was a wonder to watch.

There was not an abundance of female characters, but ones that were present were strong and determined. The word “stalwart” comes to mind. Lady Pole and Arabella are intelligent women who know what they want and will work as hard as needed to get it – no matter what life (and the magical world) throws at them.

I kept thinking Childermass was the Raven King, I guess because of his appearance. He is the ultimate dark horse in the show. He’s so opaque; you never know quite where his mind is at. Yet somehow you find yourself trusting him completely. You know he is on the side of right.

When you first meet Vinculus, you’re like – who is this crazy man? His story continues to become more and more unlikely as the season progresses… in the most mind-bending and exciting way. Just genius stuff.

Lastly to say goodbye to The Gentleman and witness the rise of Stephen was so rewarding! Marc Warren was so creepy as the Gentleman! I uttered a little scream every time he popped up unexpectedly on the screen. One of the most insidious, sinister characters on television I have seen lately.

With regard to the nameless slave, Stephen, from the first time he was summoned by the Gentleman, you could not help but feel his suffering. Every week you witnessed and experienced his grief and powerlessness vicariously. It was soul crushing. What a high to see him crush the Gentleman and see Stephen completely empowered! Long live the Nameless Slave!

The brief appearance of the Raven King was quite bewitching. His understated way of doing magic… he just gushed power and control, didn’t he? The way he just tweaked two or three little things and changed the whole course of history – impressive.

Keeping so many characters in play and interesting… well that’s just great television!

As a kid who grew up with Harry Potter, seeing magic in such a different light was truly a delight.

It is a series I will not soon forget.

We are all magicians!

We must use our powers to bewitch the BBC into renewing the spellbinding Strange and Norrell for another season of magic, friendship, love and adventure!

Let me know your thoughts about Strange & Norrell in the comments below!

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