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All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

Titan Books, 2016, 429 p.

 All the Birds in the Sky cover

This, Anders’s first novel, is a blend of Fantasy and Science Fiction which starts off reading like YA fiction but soon enough makes clear that it deals with adult matters too. Patricia Delfine very early in her life realises she is a witch when birds begin to talk to her and she can talk back. She also has a conversation with a speaking tree – The Tree. In school her path crosses that of Laurence Armstead, a so-called techno-geek, who invents for himself a two-second time machine for travel only into the future, and later builds an AI he calls CH@NG3M3. For both of them schooldays are a kind of purgatory, as they are picked on and bullied. Their home lives are little better, both using the other as a means of convincing their parents they are out doing what is desired for them rather than what they wish for themselves. Mixed in with all this is an assassin called Mr Rose who gets a job as counsellor at their school in order to monitor their activities. Despite appearing intermittently in the novel Mr Rose’s function is not really clearly defined.

Later the children’s lives diverge as Patricia finds the company of other witches (whose old division into Healers and Tricksters was patched over many years before.) She is always being warned by them of the dangers of Aggrandisement. It seems just about anything she does can be interpreted in this way. Laurence is recruited by Milton Dirth to work on his project to build a wormhole machine to take humans to another planet. In the background there is a large degree of environmental degradation which makes this construction seem worthwhile and in daily life an electronic device called a Caddy somehow engineers people’s lives to be better through apparently serendipitous meetings and the like. How all these things are connected and Patricia and Laurence’s coming together in adult life are central to the story.

There are some observations on human nature. In one of their conversations Laurence says to Patricia “‘no matter what you do, people are going to expect you to be someone you’re not. But if you’re clever and work your butt off, then you get to be surrounded by people who expect you to be the person you wish they were.’”

Oddly, despite the novel being written in USian I noticed the British usages, “a total wanker,” “for some emergency nookie,” and “one intense wank fantasy.” In addition I was delighted to see the phrase “head for the Dumbarton.” (The Dumbarton is a bridge over San Francisco Bay – the southernmost. Its name derives from Dumbarton Point, itself named after my home town.)

Though it has some flaws, All the Birds in the Sky is overall an impressive debut.

Pedant’s corner:- epicenter [sic] (it was a centre,) a missing comma before a quotation mark, a capital letter after a colon, “none of the computers were connected” (none .. was connected,) “‘to lay low’” (lie low,) Patricia at one point is said to have reasonably fullish breasts but later they are described as small, “Here’s what Isobel said to Laurence, just before the earthquake hit” is a poor – a dreadful – way to start a flashback.

Dumbarton, River Leven and River Clyde from Dumbarton Rock

These are the good lady’s photographs. She took them while I was at one of the play-off games at The Rock, in May last year.

River Leven and Dumbarton from Dumbarton Rock:-

River Leven and Dumbarton from Dumbarton Rock

River Leven and Dumbarton with Ben Lomond in background:-

River Leven at Dumbarton, Ben Lomond in Background

Rivers Leven and Clyde at Dumbarton:-

Rivers Leven and Clyde at Dumbarton

River Leven and Dumbarton From Dumbarton Rock. As a child the good lady used to play on the rocks on the riverside below where this was taken from:-

View of River Leven and Dumbarton From Dumbarton Rock

Somewhere else she used to play was in this burn by the Swing Park. Well, that’s what it was always called when I was young. It’s apparently known officially as the East End Park:-

Burn by the Swing Park, Dumbarton

Dumbarton Rock and River Leven

I think my only previous posting about Dumbarton Rock was here. Those photos were taken from across the River Clyde at Langbank in the former Renfrewshire.

There is a more familiar view from the quayside (of the River Leven) at Dumbarton itself:-

River Leven and Dumbarton Rock

Dumbarton Rock from River Leven

Boats on River Leven, Dumbarton:-

Boats on River Leven, Dumbarton

River Leven, Boats and Levengrove Park:-

River Leven, Boats and Levengrove Park, Dumbarton

Nordfjord, Norway

Reflections in Nordfjord, Olden, Norway:-

More Reflections in Nordfjord, Olden, Norway

Misty mountain and reflections in Nordfjord:-

Reflections in Nordfjord, Olden, Norway

Head of Nordfjord, Norway, looking towards Olden, SS Black Watch in background:-

View in Olden, Norway

SS Black Watch and hill overlooking Nordfjord:-

SS Black Watch and Hill, Olden, Norway

SS Black Watch berthed, Olden, Norway:-

SS Black Watch Berthed, Olden, Norway

Most of this set of photos were taken on a walk we made from Olden towards Loen Fjord. As we were making our way a strange disturbance of the water on Nordfjord made its way in from the seaward end of the fjord. I supposed it might have been the tide coming in but we were so far from the open sea there were no waves as such.

The views and the open water to the left as we made our way westwards with the hills on the other side reminded me of the road from Helensburgh, 8 miles north of Dumbarton, towards Rhu and the Gareloch. The mouth of Loen Fjord (photo taken from Nordfjord, when sailing away from Olden) is flanked by higher mountains though:-

Loen Fjord, Norway

Emusing Title?

This isn’t really a linguistic annoyance but I’ve not used that category for a while.

Anyway I was tickled by the title of a listing (now vanished) on eBay. (PHOTO DUMBARTON CENTRAL RAILWAY STATION VIEW IN THE 1960`S WITH AN EMU IN VIEW.)

“An emu?” I thought.

Then after a second I realised it must be train-buff speak for electrical multiple unit.

Eyemouth

Eyemouth, in the Scottish Borders Region, just a few miles north of the border and of Berwick, is the town where my mother spent most of her childhood before her family then moved to Dumbarton.

It’s a typical Scottish fishing village/town where a river (the River Eye) flows into the North Sea via a harbour.

I’ve been there several times before, as a child with my mother, and later as an adult but it was many years ago now. When the good lady’s blog friend, Peggy, was here last summer we took the opportunity to visit as she wanted to see it.

I hadn’t remembered this decoish set of windows:-

Art Deco Style in Eyemouth

The statue in front of the shop is of William Spears who in the 19th century led a revolt against the tithes on fish levied by the Church of Scotland.

This is the War Memorial, “Sacred to the memory of officers, NCOs and men of Eyemouth who fell in the Great War”:-

Eyemouth War Memorial

The reverse names the second war’s dead and the column’s inscription reads, “Sacred to the memory of officers, NCOs and men of Eyemouth who gave their lives in the Great War II, 1939-45.” Note also Merchant Navy, Fishermen plus Egypt 1952 and Iraq 2005:-

Eyemouth War Memorial

The original Jack Deighton, my grandfather, was the minister at the local Episcopal Church, St Ebba’s, named after a local saint, the Abbess of Coldingham. The Lifeboat at Eyemouth was also named for her as this lifebelt in the museum attests:-

Eyemouth St Ebba Lifebelt

The Persistence of Scott

My previous post’s title was of course a reference to the alternative title of Sir Walter Scott’s first novel Waverley otherwise known as Tis Sixty Years Since.

I am of course reading that author’s The Heart of Mid-Lothian at the moment which means he has been on my mind.

Scott’s influence continued to be felt long after his death. Edinburgh’s main railway station is named Waverley in his honour and there is of course the huge monument to his memory on Princes Street.

Scott Monument

On seeing this Belgian author George Simenon is supposed to have asked, “You mean they erected that for one of us?” then added, “Well, why not. He invented us all.”

Also named after him is the main steamer on Loch Katrine in the Trossachs, the SS Sir Walter Scott, which was built by Denny’s of Dumbarton, dismantled, its pieces numbered, then the whole transported by horse cart to Stronachlachar on Loch Katrine where it was reassembled.

SS Sir Walter Scott
SS Sir Walter Scott

She is by no means the only ship with a Scott connection which I have sailed on.

The Heart of Mid-Lothian‘s main female character is named Jeanie Deans, a name previously familiar to me – at least in her second steamship incarnation – from several of those trips “Doon the Watter” that used to be so much a part of a West of Scotland childhood.

PS Jeanie Deans
PS Jeanie Deans

There was a short branch line (now long gone) off the main-line station at Craigendoran (about 8 miles from Dumbarton) which took trains right up to a platform on the pier where the ship would be waiting for its passengers to detrain and embark – usually for Rothesay. I believe something similar pertained at Wemyss Bay.

One of the delights of the trip was to descend into the lower parts of the ship to see the engines; mesmerising visions of gleaming, oiled steel and brass, powerful flywheels spinning, pistons thundering, regulators twirling. “Taking a look at the engines” was also used as a euphemism by those suitably aged gentlemen patrons who wished to avail themselves of the licensed facilities on board.

There was also an earlier PS Jeanie Deans. Indeed the North British Packet Steam Company and North British Railway seem to have named their ships almost exclusively after Scott characters. Have a look at this list of their ships, some of which were transferred to later operators.

Only one of these floating mini-palaces still exists. The second PS Waverley (built in 1949) is now the sole ocean-going paddle steamer left in the world and still carries out excursions from its base on the clyde near Glasgow Science Centre, in the Bristol Channel, from London, the South Coast and Wales under the auspices of the Paddle Steamer Preservation Society.

PS Waverley at Ilfracombe
Waverley at Ilfracombe

If you can avail yourself of the opportunity to take a trip on the Waverley (or indeed the SS Sir Walter Scott, though she is much smaller and does not quite afford the full experience) I would urge you to do so.

Cardross War Memorial

This lies beside the main road through the town, which is on the A 814 between Dumbarton and Helensburgh.

Cardross War Memorial

Closer view:-

Cardross War Memorial Close-up

Left-hand name panels:-

Cardross War Memorial Name Plaques

Right-hand name panels:-

Cardross War Memorial Names

St Augustine’s, Dumbarton

St Augustine's, Dumbarton

St Augustine’s Episcopal Church, Dumbarton (above; dedicated to St Augustine of Hippo) is possibly the most important building in my life. Not just because it was where I got married – though that can’t be minimised. It was the church where my grandfather (the original Jack Deighton) was the incumbent Rector in the 1930s and 1940s. The Episcopalian ministry was more or less the Deighton family business. Not only my grandfather but his brother (my great uncle,) his son (my uncle,) and his grandson (my brother) took up holy orders – or as I used to put it, “I come from a long line of penguins.” My generation was where the tradition ended though.

The church was where I spent a fair part of each Sunday in my youth as a member of the church choir. There were two accompanied services each Sunday; Matins/Morning Prayer or Sung Eucharist in the morning and Evensong in the evening.

More germane to its importance to my life is that it was where my mother first laid eyes on my father as he entered church in the choir procession and she told herself, “I’m going to marry that boy.” At the time they were both aged nine! My mother was a strong-willed woman and knew her own mind from a young age: her mother said she was so thrawn she’d walk on the other side of the road because she didn’t want to walk with the rest of the family. My father never had a choice. Still, without that I wouldn’t be here.

Since I moved to Fife the only times I have entered St Augustine’s have been for family funerals or as in Saturday’s case a memorial service for an old family friend who died earlier in the year. It was a chance to see how cruel time is to us all. One woman said to me, “I know you,” but couldn’t work out who I was till she was told. Mind you I didn’t recognise her either. My excuse is that she’d changed her hair colour.

I took the photograph below of the chancel, high altar, reredos and stained glass window at the east end; now all much more visible from the nave since the rood screen was removed during restoration. (The pictures on the lower altar are from the life of the old family friend.) The reredos is a particularly fine example of the form.

Interior, St Augustine's Episcopal Church, Dumbarton

The War Memorial to St Augustine’s congregation members used to be to the right of the entrance door. When the church was refurbished with heritage funding – the church is a grade A listed building – it was relocated to halfway or so up the left hand side:-

War Memorial, St Augustine's Episcopal Church, Dumbarton

It only occurred to me when I got home that this was probably the last time I’ll ever attend St Augustine’s. With the loss of that old family friend I no longer have a connection to the church and none with Dumbarton – except for the glorious Sons of the Rock of course. I’m kicking myself that I didn’t take more photographs, especially of the stained glass windows facing the High Street.

Dumbarton War Memorial

The Memorial is unusually situated some way out of the town centre, in Levengrove Park, on the banks of the River Clyde near its confluence with the River Leven, with a great view of Dumbarton Rock.

This is the view looking from the Park towards the Clyde. It’s the front of the Memorial which as a whole is surrounded by a metal fence and features a bronze angel. Note the Elephant and Castle crest of Dumbarton on the gate:-

Dumbarton War Memorial, View Towards River Clyde

Reverse of the Memorial – the view towards the Park, again with Dumbarton crest on the fence:-

Dumbarton War Memorial

Again looking into Levengrove Park but from an angle:-

Dumbarton War Memorial from Side

The names of the First World War dead are on each side, above in the original engraving; Second World War ones added below, on two sides only. This is the east side of the Memorial:-

Dumbarton War Memorial Names

The west side:-

Dumbarton War Memorial Details

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