Come and be licked…

This is the first in a series I’ve been planning to write that looks at some of the favourite Dunnett quotes that I suggested we collect, and analyses them in the context of the passages they appear in. I’m starting with one of the classics. Or maybe two…

“Kate, my dear? Haven’t your raspberries been marvellous this year? Come and be licked; I haven’t dined yet.”

This has to be one of my favourite quotes in all of Dunnettworld, because it isn’t just a delightful visual image – it tells us so much about the characters and their interaction that it’s almost a backstory in itself. This is something that Dorothy is so very good at; sometimes she will take considerable time describing a scene in great detail, layer upon layer, when the pace of the narrative makes it appropriate, but at other times when it might interfere she has this wonderful ability to encapsulate matters into a short passage, a sentence, or sometimes just a couple of words.

Let us set the scene. We are in the middle of major difficulties, Richard has barred Lymond from his door after the episode with Joleta in Dumbarton, Gabriel is trying to take over St Mary’s, and we have recently had the Hot Trodd and the tragedy of Will Scott’s death. In the midst of this Francis Crawford visits Flaw Valleys, where he hasn’t been since having had to knock out Philippa to save her from harm.

Dorothy then described Kate’s feelings as she sees him approach, and then, as she enters the music room, describes how she looks at him, observing his skin colour and fitness. He turns and delivers that wonderful line.

In this case Dorothy is telling us a number of things:

The brilliant strategist and political schemer, the highly strung athlete and swordsman, who seems constantly above mundane matters, actually has a simpler side to him as well. He observes nature and delights in it, he enjoys the flavours and colours of the countryside.

Despite worries and events that would crush a lesser man, and as we will shortly discover despite severe exhaustion, he still has time and wit to greet Kate with humour and consideration.

He and Kate enjoy a close friendship. He has been shown, or maybe just enters without being shown, straight into the innermost rooms of the house and is clearly trusted to be there by the servants. He is able to tease her lightheartedly with no fear that she will be offended. He understands the demands that running an estate make on her and is immediately aware that she will be embarrassed at not being at her best for his surprise visit. That he can deflect her embarrasment and put her at ease shows both his kindness and affection for her and his wider ability to be comfortable in a woman’s company.

What an amazing amount of information is packed into that one quote!

The prior thoughts we see from Kate also tell us a great deal about her. In Game of Kings we saw how she was able to confidently probe and engage Lymond in a way that few others could manage intellectually and fewer still could get away with without attracting his withering scorn. In some part that was assisted by her being thoroughly grounded in a solid marriage. Now of course Gideon is dead. We’d seen glimpses of what a perceptive man and a loving and engaging father and husband he was. Kate will have mourned him deeply and may have been assisted by her new friends in the Crawford family. Clearly she misses him. But now her relationship with Lymond has taken on new qualities. She is still a young woman and must be very conscious of his attractions while not wanting to risk their friendship. So we see the ever-practical, sensible, down-to-earth Kate, concerned about her daughter’s safety, nevertheless worrying that she isn’t looking her best for him. His presence confuses her and causes conflicts in her mind. While remaining a loyal and concerned friend she is showing signs of being ready to fall in love with him if he were to give the slightest encouragement.

All this of course presages a passage during which we see her appreciating his extreme tiredness (and having the temerity that few others would have of advising him to rest because it will affect his judgement and leadership), showing her intelligence in analysing a series of complex facts and drawing conclusions, and despite receiving a shock about how much danger Philippa is in she is able to appreciate that it is Gabriel who is the danger to Lymond’s leadership of St Mary’s (and maybe a few more things besides.) And at the end of this passage, as Lymond succumbs to fatigue and near despair when for a moment he is afraid that she thought he might strike her, there is another wonderful one-liner. Probably a favourite of most readers, this time spoken only in Kate’s mind, and which acts as a perfectly matched bookend to the first.

“My dear, my dear, I would give you my soul in a blackberry pie; and a knife to cut it with.”

Major archaeological discoveries on Orkney

One of the subjects that seems to be close to the hearts of a great many Dunnett readers is archaeology, and when combined with the enchanting location of Thorfinn’s Orkney Isles where Maes Howe and the Ring of Brodgar appeared within the King Hereafter story, this becomes very much on-topic. A few days ago, no longer able to keep my mind on ever-present work tasks, I escaped into my list of favourite sites for a few minutes and visited Sigurd Towrie’s Orkneyjar. It was with some shock that I realised that the digging season was already shutting down and that I hadn’t looked at the latest developments on the big excavation at the Ness of Brodgar this year and hadn’t realised the amount of investigation going on in the Ring itself during this summer.

The developments on both sites have been astonishing, with many structures of major significance discovered and new information about sea levels and the likely differences in topography and landscape in the area which suggest a radical reinterpretation of the way in which the structures of the area may have been used. The excavations in the Ring of Brodgar, principally two large trenches at opposite sides of the ring, have been deeper than ever before and amongst other things should help to establish a much better idea of the real date of the structure and shed new light on the methods of construction.

It would be pointless for me to even attempt any more of a summary here – there is simply far too much and as yet, with the digging only recently coming to an end, much of the discoveries have not yet been analysed or organised into anything resembling conclusions. That work will doubtless be going on over the winter and promises to be intriguing . For now just visit the site and follow the many threads and excavation diary notes. Leave plenty of time – they’ve found an awful lot of buildings, artefacts and information and you may well emerge to find it’s already tomorrow!

Lymond audiobooks now available on CD in the UK and Europe

For a number of years the Lymond Chronicles have been available as audiobooks on cassette from W F Howes. As cassettes have become an increasingly outdated format there has been growing demand for CD versions and in fact the US parent company of Howes have had a CD version which was only available in America. Now however Howes have released UK editions of the first three Lymonds and the rest will follow in the next few months. Game of Kings and Disorderly Knights are priced at £34.99 while Queens’ Play is £29.99

They can be ordered from the Dunnett page at Whole Story Audio which is the new retail site for Howes’ output.

This post replaces an earlier one which I made when the audiobooks on CD were first announced but details were not yet available. Something very odd happened to that post as I discovered that it had been taken off-line and was stuffed full of spam links. It looks as if someone made an only partially successful attempt to put in comment spam. So apologies if you saw an earlier announcement on one of the email lists and were confused by the lack of a post. I’ll shortly be upgrading the version of WordPress in use here to ensure that all the security patches are up to date. If I have time I’ll also be introducing a new look for the blog.

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Edinburgh in the Spring 2008 – the DDRA weekend

Spring arrived only just in time. A week earlier we’d still had a dusting of snow on the Pentland Hills and there was a biting cold wind even on the opening Friday evening – it wasn’t only our American visitors who were well wrapped up! Fortunately the sun appeared on Saturday and Sunday with rather warmer conditions, though it was back to cold again on Monday.

At the beginning of the week I’d been happy to escape the last minute preparations and welcome Mickey and Jerry Thies who had come over for a holiday to lead up to the weekend. I fear it was too cold for Jerry to get much golf in but I hear they managed a tour to Loch Ness amongst others. It was good to see them again after a few years gap.

For the committee the weekend really got under way with a four hour meeting on the Friday afternoon, though work commitments meant I missed the first hour and a half.

For the members the weekend started with a drink and an excellent buffet meal in the Sheraton Hotel. Numbers were up on previous years so this was a chance to get to know new people as well as greet old friends. I was sitting with two new members, Jayne and Alison, both of whom I’d had correspondence with, so it was good to be able to put faces to names and find things in common to chat about. Later I was able to enjoy a drink with Olive Depont and husband Kell who I hadn’t seen for a few years, and discuss Scottish History and Whisky.

Saturday meant an early start for the committee to get everything ready for the day’s events. I took along the portrait of Dorothy by Emilio Coia to show to the members and watch over the proceedings. Hurried consultations on running order and then it was time to make the opening address followed by the Chairman’s report and Membership report. Fortunately I’m pretty used to public speaking but so much talking certainly dries the throat.

AGMs are unpredictable events; sometimes they’re over in minutes and no-one wants to say anything, other times everyone wants to speak and the points made are expanded on and debated at length. That is the way of things and you cannot tamper with it. On this occasion discussion was plentiful and we overran our estimated time by over an hour, necessitating a rearrangement of lunch and a recess and later return to the AGM proceedings.

Prior to lunch we had Betty Moxon’s illuminating talk and slide-show on the trip she and others took to Timbuktu. I have little doubt that this kindled some feelings of wanderlust amongst many of her audience as she showed an obvious love of the country and its people along with some excellent photographs. Betty’s fellow traveller Jonquil finished off with a demonstration of turban wrapping Mali style.

Timbuktu was one of the very few places that Dorothy didn’t visit in her research – at the time she wanted to go there a war was taking place and the Foreign Office advised against it. She once told me that she regretted not going anyway. Such was her dedication to getting everything right.

Lunch, with views of Edinburgh Castle and the daffodills on the banks leading up to the Esplanade now bathed in sunshine, was followed by a talk from an old friend of the association, Doreen Grove of Historic Scotland, on the history and architecture of Rowallan Castle. Doreen always speaks with enthusiam as well as expertise and this was no exception.  She was followed by a colleague at Historic Scotland, the multi-talented Vajira Premadasa, who played us some delightful lute music – much of it from music books from the castle itself. I could happily have listened to much more of this and it gave us all an insight into the sort of music that Lymond and Philippa might have played.

After the resumption and finish of the AGM we all went off to prepare for the evening dinner. An excellent meal was followed by an address from our Honorary member and dear friend Charles Burnett, who had shown an unexpected talent as a prize draw announcer earlier in the day! As always he spoke well and finished up with a toast to Dorothy’s memory.

A well-deserved presentation was then made to Olive Millward who has been organising the AGM weekend for the last four years. She later showed the present to everyone – a lovely necklace made of red Murano glass.

The final part of a happy evening was a perfectly phrased recitation of epic poet and tragedian William McGonagle’s Tay Bridge Disaster by Ann Buchanan. I foresee this being a regular favourite at future events!

I didn’t go on the Sunday trip to Dirleton and Tantallon as the demand for places was so high this year that I didn’t want to deprive anyone of the chance of seeing them. Living locally I’ve been there a few times, while for some it might be their only chance of visiting. So I’m afraid I have no photos of this year’s events since it isn’t appropriate for the Chairman to hide behind a camera during the Saturday events. If anyone has any good ones I’d love to see them. The Sunday weather seemed sunny though I’ve little doubt that there would be a cool sea breeze on the coast. Hopefully everyone enjoyed it.

Messages are now coming in from those arriving home. I trust that all felt the journeys well worthwhile and that we’ll see them again before too long. Thanks for your company!