Book Spotlight | Knots & Crosses by Ian Rankin

knots and crosses

Detective John Rebus: His city is being terrorised by a baffling series of murders…and he’s tied to a maniac by an invisible knot of blood. Once John Rebus served in Britain’s elite SAS. Now he’s an Edinburgh cop who hides from his memories, misses promotions and ignores a series of crank letters. But as the ghoulish killings mount and the tabloid headlines scream, Rebus cannot stop the feverish shrieks from within his own mind. Because he isn’t just one cop trying to catch a killer, he’s the man who’s got all the pieces to the puzzle… 

As someone who’s spent most of her life living in Fife, I’m ashamed that it’s taken me so long to read an Ian Rankin book. In my defence, I’d have done it sooner if I wasn’t a stickler for chronological order and the first book wasn’t the only one that my parents didn’t have in their house.

Never mind. Better late than never, and I LOVED IT.

I loved Rebus. He’s a cynical, divorced Detective Sergeant who drinks and smokes and is generally pretty sardonic. Should be so far, so cliche, but Ian Rankin’s writing of him makes him an absolute revelation.

I loved Rebus’ Edinburgh. It’s not the tourist’s Edinburgh, with the castle and the Mile and the Old Town. It’s Lothian Road and the seedy bars you only go into if you’re local, and the difference between the upper crust and the grotty bits.

I loved the story, which was intense and dark and full of unsavoury characters, but so clever and evocative that it was an absolute joy to read. Rankin’s writing style is gloriously dry and witty and Scottish I actually audibly snorted on the train.

See possibly my favourite line in any book ever:

“If you buzz down to him, I’ll come back up and kick that telephone so far up your arse that you really will be able to make internal calls. Do you get my drift?”

Magnificent stuff. I’ve not read a lot of crime fiction, but this has set the bar pretty high. You could have set it in any city and it would have been great, but the fact that it was set in Edinburgh, on streets that I see on my way to work every day, made it even more fun

Also Ian Rankin was only 25 years old when he wrote this. Man’s a genius. I am suitably intimidated.

Top Ten Tuesday | My Ten Favourite Words

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl.

I already sort of did a summer TBR post, so I went back into the archives and pulled a random topic. Here are ten of my favourite Scottish words.

Well, okay, there’s eight and one that isn’t a Scottish word.

Haar

A Scottish word I only recently learned when my mum pointed it out on the Forth. It refers, according to the Edinburgh Evening News, “specifically to the coastal fog which typically forms in Spring and Summer over eastern Scotland and England.” So there you go.

haar
Its haar, not fog. I mean, it is fog, but it’s haar. Ya ken?

Drumnadrochit

This is a place name rather than a word, but my god it’s fun to say, isn’t it?

How?

Not a Scottish word, you might say. Well, you’re right, but I’m not sure anywhere else has swapped it for the word “why” over time. It didn’t ever occur to me that we do this until it was pointed out by a few baffled non-Scots. It’s probably my favourite cute little quirk of language.

Crabbit

As a self-professed miserable cow, I use this one quite a lot. Incidentally, it was also one of the first colloquialisms we taught my friend Tackle before he came to visit. An excellent descriptor.

Shoogle

Roughly translates to “wobble” (“that chair’s a bit shoogly”) but can also mean to shake something. Giving someone a shoogle means to swing them around in a manner that may induce motion sickness.

Shan

In Edinburgh, “Barry” and “Shan” are used to mean “good” and “bad” respectively. I think shan is a brilliant word, which is just as well as since I started working in Morningside I’ve found myself picking it up from my colleagues. Definitely not shan.

Ken

I really want to know if anyone’s ever come away from a conversation with a Scottish person wondering who Ken is, and why he’s so popular. It means “know”. Ya ken?

Dreich

This is a good one to learn if you ever come to Scotland. It’s used to describe miserable weather, and as we have a fair few dreich days in all seasons,

And one that isn’t Scottish…

Bleach

This might be my favourite word and I have absolutely no justification for it. I just love the way it sounds.

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Gimme your favourite words in your local dialect. I love them.

How I Know It’s Spring: The Scotland Edition

Scotland is famous for many things. Tartan, whisky, deep frying anything we can get our hands on, crap weather…

Fortunately, after a winter that’s lasted for several years and a snowstorm so bad it shut down the country, it’s starting to look like spring. How can I be sure, when I live somewhere you have to dress for all four seasons in one day? Well, I’ll tell you!

It hasn’t snowed for over a week

Particularly relevant this year. Scotland has a reasonably temperate climate at the best of times, and I live on the coast so it’s even milder, but it snowed this year for longer than I can remember. Now the temperatures are consistently above zero! Nothing is frozen! SPRING.

beast
Oh Beast from the East, I do not miss you.

I’ve turned the central heating off

IT IS REAL. As someone who likes the house to be roughly the surface temperature of the sun, you know the seasons are changing when I turn the heating off for good. I’m sure the people who come round to visit and end up sweating profusely on my sofa are glad.

It’s sunny, cold and windy instead of cloudy, cold and windy

Before lambs, leaves and daffodils, spring is here when the sun reappears and the country either whips off their shirts or crumbles into dust. It has happened (finally), and the temperature is starting to hint towards double digits, but make no mistake: it’s still freezing. It’s Scotland, of course it is.

hill

I’m not scared to pee at work

My office may have a dog, but I’ll tell you what it doesn’t have: central heating. I am delighted that the temperature is increasing purely because I don’t have to wait until I’m cultivating a kidney stone to brave the toilet.

And, in that vein…

It’s time to stop wearing thermals

I came to this decision after dragging myself up the hill after work yesterday, sweating profusely. Now that I’m not attempting to set myself on fire with the aforementioned propane heater, it might be time to scale back the layers.

edinburgh

The last Christmas song has been removed from my playlists

There’s always one I forget in the January purge. This year it was Ring Out Solstice Bells by Jethro Tull.

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Spring is here! As we say in Scotland, taps aff. Enjoy the heatwave that’s apparently happening.

Not here, of course. We’ll settle for moderate cloud.

Book Review | Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is the story of a quirky yet lonely woman whose social misunderstandings and deeply ingrained routines could be changed forever—if she can bear to confront the secrets she has avoided all her life. But if she does, she’ll learn that she, too, is capable of finding friendship—and even love—after all.

eleanor oliphant

This is a brief review, but for a good reason: I don’t want you to be reading it. I want you to go out of your house, go to a bookstore, BUY THE BOOK and read it instead. Go. Now.

If you’re still here, I can only assume you’re snowed in, gravely ill or temporarily incapacitated, so sure, read this while you recover.

First of all, don’t be put off by the fact that, for a decent chunk at the beginning of the book Eleanor Oliphant is supremely annoying. It’s immediately obvious that she’s an unreliable narrator, but it’s also immediately obvious that there’s a lot to unpick.

Her interaction with a number of other characters – Raymond (the IT guy at her work), Sammy (the pensioner they help in the street) and her mysterious musician, only serve to highlight the difference between being “Completely Fine” and Eleanor’s idea of Completely Fine. It’s a gut-wrenching, life affirming, thoroughly relatable masterpiece of a journey. I promise you that by the time you get not even halfway through, Miss Oliphant will break your heart, put it back together and then break it again.

Recommended for: anyone with eyes and feelings. Seriously. Read it.

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Books I Meant To Read In 2017 But Didn’t Get To

So this is a bit of a cop out for me. Mainly because my previous Top Ten Tuesday of “Books I’m Planning on Reading Over Winter” sees me knock about…three off the list, namely A Christmas Carol, Blackbird and A Shiver of Snow and Sky.

At the risk of repeating myself, I suggest you go back and read that post. However, to make up numbers, I’ve got another three books that have been glaring at me for months until I want to die from the shame.

Wing Jones – Katherine Webber

wing jones

I’ve got a signed copy of Wing Jones that I picked up at the Edinburgh International Book festival this year, because a) I’ve heard literally NOTHING but good things about it, and b) I love signed books and sprayed edges. It’s been “next on my TBR” for so long and I always end up with something else that I want to blog about or want to read for a Twitter chat, but not this year because this year I am actually GOING TO READ IT.

Orangeboy – Patrice Lawrence

orangeboy

I’ve heard SO many good things about Orangeboy. And Patrice Lawrence in general, actually. This one is a book I picked up as part of a mad spree and it’s been sitting in my bookcase for a shamefully long time. I’m going to read it, and them I’m going to buy and read Indigo Donut too.

Babylon Berlin – Volker Kutscher

BABYLON BERLIN AW.indd

I’d never heard of Babylon Berlin until not too long ago. Apparently it’s a major TV series, which shows how on the pulse my finger is. Or isn’t. I’ll hold my hands up and say I wanted to read this for AGES before I even found out what it was about purely because it’s got a really cool title. I’m a marketing team’s dream.

Fortunately it only got cooler when I read the synopsys. Plus the English language version has been released by a Scottish publisher, Sandstone Press all the way up in Dingwall! Marvellous.

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Thus begins my TBR list for 2018. What else should be on it? Hit me!

“The Problem”: old jokes, community, and girls who game.

Most people who know me have probably heard me talk about a trading card game called Magic: the Gathering. I’ve been playing since 2013 and I’m currently heavily involved in running and sustaining our local player community.

Which is why when I saw this Daily Mash article in my timeline and realised it had been shared by a local store with a slightly patronising “Now remember lads, it’s just a joke!” tagline, my eyes rolled so far back in my head I could examine my own spinal cord.

I, along with others, suggested that presenting the article in that way was perhaps not a positive reflection of the community. I was (predictably) accused of not being able to take a joke. The joke, of course, being that men who go to gaming stores are all sweaty neckbeard virgins who panic at the mere thought of a woman, and that the women who go are there for literally any conceivable reason other than they want to hang out and play games. (Spoiler alert: WE JUST WANT TO HANG OUT AND PLAY GAMES.)

I was also told that the problem lies with me if I have a problem. Let’s get real. Anyone who thinks that is missing the point so wildly it looks deliberately obtuse. I really don’t care what people spend their free time laughing at in their own little groups, and if there are people that still actually think this flogged to death meme is funny then crack on. “Lads”.

This is not an isolated incident. Oh it’s rare – I’d go so far as to say almost unheard of – in Scotland, where there’s a tight-knit, inclusive community who aren’t afraid to shout if something’s not right. But widen the net and you see that this “joke” is actually being played out in stores all over the place. Women being asked where their boyfriend is, women receiving comments like “man, I can’t believe I just got beaten by a girl” when they win. Women who, despite making up around 40% of the total player base, are not going to events. Meghan Wolff from the Magic: the Amateuring podcast wrote an excellent article two years ago on this topic, after encountering – as we all have – people who, in her words, “don’t believe it’s even an issue and who don’t want to be convinced”.

Am I looking into this too much? There’ll be thousands who would argue yes, that I’m a snowflake who looks for excuses to be offended, or that I’m a “feminazi” looking for an excuse to throw my weight around and stop all the boys from having a good time. Maybe that’s what they meant when they said the problem lies with me. Maybe that’s what you think too.

But let’s be absolutely, categorically clear. It doesn’t.

The problem lies with sixteen-year-old Sally who’s just come across Magic and wants to know where she can play locally. She is going to see that post and never attend an event. Why would she? It’s not a huge step to assume that the community will be full of men who’re going to patronise her, avoid her, assume that she’s there for a reason other than to play a game she enjoys.

The problem lies with fifteen-year-old Jimmy, who’s going to think that by hanging out in his local store, this is how he’s going to be perceived by people, who’ll make the correlation between “game store” and “any main inept character from The Big Bang Theory”. Even worse, he’s going to see that article being shared and think that his local store will have a laugh at his expense. Because that’s what it looks like.

The problem lies with twenty-two-year-old Molly, whose hobbies exist in traditionally male-dominated spheres, like gaming. Molly has to specifically create a gender-agnostic gamertag because if she doesn’t she’ll get messages saying “get back in the kitchen you whore”. Molly will look at that post and think, what’s the point?

I’ve spent the best part of the past four years watching, actively working to grow our local player base, listening to feedback from people who perhaps don’t feel comfortable or welcome in these spaces and trying to do better. I like to think I have a decent understanding of the nuances of creating a good community, and I’m afraid not being an asshole to your customers when they’re in your store simply isn’t enough. We know this. Scotland knows this. It’s why most of our shops and players and judges and tournament organisers are so wonderful.

And therefore I would ask you to consider, that if you post something and have to double down and argue with the numerous people pointing out the way that it reflects on your community – people who are the butt of the joke you’re inviting your customers to laugh at – that an entirely different problem lies very much with you.

The Third Forth bridge: an experience

They’ve been building the Queensferry Crossing for so long it feels like we should be celebrating its centenary, never mind its opening. So many years of driving down towards Ferrytoll and finding out the road layout is completely different every single time – I sweated my way through four driving tests in case the test route took me down there and I ended up in a pile of cones GTA-style. Thankfully I didn’t have to drive over it on the day it opened, as a broken down lorry (beautiful irony) and a swathe of people who wanted to be among the first to cross meant it was choked with traffic by rush hour.

Sean and I waited until 11:30pm to drive across, but by that time it was disappointingly dark and we saw nothing outside of the headlights. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to cross it as one of the 50,000 people selected by ballot to walk over it at the weekend. Unlike the Forth Road Bridge (known going forward as ‘Old Bridge’) the New Bridge is going to be motorway all the way so no pedestrian access after this weekend, so despite the fact that I was ridiculously light headed, I made the 1.7 mile wake in glorious blue sky sunshine, and it rammed home something I’ve been slowly realising over the past year.

Three of us
With the parents pre-crossing. Maw wanted a photo, Paw and I weren’t keen, hence my awkward hands.

I love where I live. I love Scotland. I’ll sit and slag Fife off until I’m purple, but I love it here too. I love the water and I love the bridges. One of my earliest memories is waving to my dad in his drivers cab at the end of my grandparents’ garden in North Queensferry when he was crossing the rail bridge. My wedding reception is on the south bank of the river, between the rail and road bridge.

And, despite all of the protests of “it’s just a bridge, get over it” (which is the best unintentional pun ever by the way) I’ve grown up in the shadow of these bridges and it was really cool to walk across the new one.

This has been a relatively brief wander through the weekend as I’ve spent most of it lying on my back with food poisoning, idly wondering whether I’m more likely to be sick or explode but yeah. Bridges are cool and Scotland is cool. Peace out and look at these photos I took.

What’s the big deal about autumn?

I’m slowly rediscovering a love for sunsets at dinner time and central heating all day every day after years of being ravaged by winter depression. But from a brief peruse of social media is looks like everyone else is WAY ahead of me. When did everyone begin to loathe summer and love autumn? Is this part of growing up, or is it a new phenomenon?

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There’s plenty to be excited about in autumn, but there’s also plenty of hype that leaves me scratching my head and wondering if everyone else has moved to some higher plane and left me behind. Inspired by a conversation I had on Twitter, here’s all the things about Autumn that are SO OVERRATED.

Halloween

Seriously, when did Halloween become A Big Deal? Halloween when I was little was a homemade cat costume, leotard, black tights and faux fur tails sewn on the back. I looked like I was starring in an amateur production of Cats and I loved it. Now it seems to be just as big as Christmas. There are entire supermarket aisles full of decorations. If you had Halloween decorations when I was wee you were That Rich House in the street. I don’t get the hype. Why is Halloween good?

The benefits of living right at the top of a hill with no kids in the immediate area is that I don’t have to draw the curtains, turn all the lights off and sit in the dark to pretend I’m not in, which is what we did every year before I moved out. The downside is that I no longer live with my mum, who would buy bags of sweets “just in case” and then we’d actively avoid luring anyone to the front door. Good times.

Pumpkin Spiced Lattes

Let’s get real: these things are not good. I get that they’re the unofficial Harbinger of Autumn, but why? They’re disgusting. It’s like drinking a Yankee Candle. I’ve tried one exactly once to see what all the fuss was about and gave it away after one mouthful. This was a much bigger paragraph when I first drafted this post, until I realised it was eight different ways of saying “they are vile”.

Seriously though, all the cool things about this season and we as a people have made this horrendous drink the biggest phenomenon?

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Christmas things in the shops from September onwards

I swear this is happening earlier each year. August is barely over before you start catching strains of Cliff Richard while you’re standing in the cheese aisle in Tesco. I fastidiously try to avoid anything festive before at least November, but it’s the middle of August and the Christmas chocolate boxes are out. The adverts will be on TV soon. HELP.

I like Christmas as much as the next person but how fatigued do you end up feeling by December when it’s rammed down your throat every time you do literally anything?

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You might get to this stage and think “What a miserable cow”. In order to correct this assumption, and since I mentioned at the start that I liked autumn, I figure I should probably name some things I actually do enjoy about this time of year.

Toffee Nut Lattes

I’m sorry, this is the real deal as far as seasonal drinks go. This blows Pumpkin Spiced Burn Time 30hrs away. I genuinely can’t go past a Starbucks when they’re in without having one of these. The moment the first taste passes my lips I sprout a woolly hat, scarves, gloves and the world’s thickest jumper spontaneously like some sort of stop motion animation. Even thinking about it is making me want one. When do they come out again?

My birthday

I’ve already spoken in my Florida hype post about how I’m spending my 26th birthday. Generally though, as much as I’m generally ambivalent about birthdays (hello late 20s, it’s a bummer), 23rd September is the point at which it Becomes Autumn and isn’t just Late Summer. All bets are off now. Jumpers are worn regularly. You’re allowed to say the C word out loud instead of just thinking it like a dirty little secret. I learn how to work the thermostat in my house again. Everything is right with the world.

Weather

I like weather. Doesn’t matter if it’s blazing sunshine and blue skies, massive snowstorm, wind that could blow you over (actually happened to me outside work earlier this year) or torrential sheet rain, as long as I’m indoors (or outdoors if it’s nice).The only kind of weather I really can’t be doing with is your bog standard grey skies and nothing else is going on, which unfortunately is the prevalent weather condition in Scotland.

Generally autumn means it’s time for ridiculous poor weather, and there is NOTHING better than whacking on a dressing gown, lighting enough candles to do Molly Ringwald for the rest of her life and writing something while the rain goes sideways against the window.

Top tip: Heartland by Runrig is the best album to listen to on cold dark winter nights. Trust me.

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We had a pretty reasonable summer in Scotland this year (take note, people, because those words don’t appear next to each other in a sentence very often) so it’s a little sad to be winding down into September, but I won’t deny that I am ITCHING to put a jumper on. It’s too muggy right now for that to be a viable clothing choice, but give it time…

Autumb sunset
Afternoon sunset from the office window.