It’s no secret that I love the writing of Alexander McCall Smith. Having begun with the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series; I moved on to Portuguese Irregular Verbs, the Professor Dr. von Igelfeld series; then the Sunday Philosophy Club series with Isabel Dalhousie and company. But my favorite of all is the 44 Scotland Street series, of which this book is the most recent addition. I love the cultural reflections, the digressions and ruminations about friends and loyalty and topics in the day’s current events. I love the way the characters love Edinburgh and Scotland and each other. I also love the way each book ends in a poem by Angus Lordie. The poems celebrate the uniqueness of Edinburgh and the common culture shared by the group of friends gathered around Domenica and Angus’s dinner table. The last stanza of the current one:
“What we lose, we think we lose forever,
But we are wrong about this; think of love –
Love is lost, we think it gone,
But it returns, often when least expected;
Forgives us our lack of attention, our failure of faith,
Our cold indifference; forgives us all this, and more;
It returns and says, “I was always there.”
Love, agape, whispers: Merely remember me,
Don’t think I’ve gone away forever:
I am still here. With you. My power undimmed.
See. I am here.”
After having visited the Scottish Portrait Gallery with his Granny, Bertie developed his own prefererences for Scottish painters. On an outing with his mother, they pass the gallery and Irene says, “Remind me, Bertie, to take you to look at the Poussins.” Bertie tells her that he’s not sure he likes the way Mr. Poussin painted. He goes on to say that he likes the way Mr. Raeburn painted, expressing a preference for portrait of The Skating Minister, the Reverend Robert Walker skating on Duddington Loch.
Poussin on the left, Raeburn on the right. Are you in the Bertie camp, or Irene’s?
When Matthew learns that Bruce’s new girlfriend Clare, was looking for a position, and Elspeth had just fired the Danish au pair and her assistant, he invited Bruce and Clare to meet Elspeth at their home at Nine Mile Burn. When they arrive, Elspeth invited them in for tea and scones, and a philosophical discussion ensues about one’s individual attitudes being determined by one’s cultural background. Moving the concept along further, Elspeth pronounces that food, even scones, carry cultural symbolism, and says, “They’re rather a polite food. Bourgeois? Lace doilies? Edinburgh?” After further discussion, Matthew concludes, “Perhaps everywhere in Scotland is… is prone to scones. Maybe it’s just part of our inheritance.” My husband and I too, are prone to these scones.
1½ C all purpose flour ½ C currants
1 C quick cooking oats 1 egg, beaten
¼ C white sugar ½ C unsalted butter or margarine, melted
4 tsp baking powder ⅓ cup milk
½ tsp salt zest of 1 orange (optional)
Combine flour, oats, sugar, baking powder, salt, and currants and zest, if using, in a large bowl. (I ran the oats through the food processor to make its texture more flour-like.)
Mix well. Make a well in the center.
Beat egg until frothy, and mix in melted butter or margarine, and milk. Pour into well. Stir to make a soft dough. If the dough is too dry, add more milk.
Pat dough into two 6- to 7-inch circles. Transfer to greased baking sheet. Score each top into 8 pie-shaped wedges.
Bake at 425º for 25 minutes, or until risen and browned.
Serve warm with butter and jam.