Tuesday, 16 September 2014

The cupboard at home is bare.

Over the past few days, I have stuffed myself on Bara brith - Chorley cake - Morecambe rock - Grasmere gingerbread - Kendal mint cake - smoked boar chop - smoked damson sauce - thunder and lightning ice cream - scones and jam - black pudding - parched peas - did I mention baked Alaska and steak and chips ...

I think I can fairly say that I did my bit to support regional cooking in the north-west.

So what's for dinner shouldn't be the pressing problem of this afternoon.

Except a girl's got to eat!
Pauline in the Yellow Dress, Herbert James Gunn, 1944

I see this painting on my desktop every day ... I can't remember why I dragged it there but it has become my gateway to BBC's Your Paintings, my favourite website, where I drop in constantly for work and for pleasure.

So when I realised I'd be passing through Preston on my way to the Lakes, I thought I'd break the journey to visit Pauline at the Harris Museum & Art Gallery.

Isn't she a glamour puss, with her 'shampoo and set' hairdo, her red lips and painted toenails peeping out from her shoe? (The Daily Mail called her 'the Mona Lisa of 1944.'

Dorette, Gerald Leslie Brockhurst, 1933

Then I came across Dorette ... don't you think she could be a Daphne du Maurier heroine?

In the Golden Olden Time, John Atkinson Grimshaw, c 1870

One of the best things about visiting provincial museums is running into old friends - like this Atkinson Grimshaw - and thinking, 'Well, fancy that, I never realised you lived here!' Is this a Wilkie Collins' heroine on her way to confront the brute who seduced her and got her with child ....
Or is she just an ordinary woman walking briskly home to a welcoming fireplace? (No prizes for guessing that I prefer the Victorian melodrama option.)

Girl Reading, Harold Knight, 1932
 I was sorry that this old favourite didn't appear to be on display. (Back in 12 months, apparently.)

Preston Corporation Chrysanthemum House, Albert Woods, 1921
And I would have loved to have seen these splendid chrysanths.

The Harris Museum is one of those wonderful examples of Victorian civic pride and there are some magnificent buildings in the city centre. I strolled for an hour - it's easy to wander out of Victorian splendour and into present day poverty/drugs - but I also discovered this beautiful Georgian square and a café that was like stepping back to the 1930s.

And then ... I jumped back on the train and headed for Art Deco Morecambe.

Back home with a cup of tea and a piece of Grasmere gingerbread ...

And it's hard to imagine that only this lunchtime I was admiring the stunning view over Lake Windermere from the terrace of Blackwell, this lovely Arts and Crafts house. Currently number 1 on my list of houses I wish I owned.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Bring Me Sunshine ... at least I hope so, because I've spent the afternoon planning a little jaunt, starting with a night of Art Deco glamour at the Midland Hotel, now restored to its Streamline Moderne glory. Will I meet Poirot shuffling down the corridor with his spongebag?

I've been wanting to visit, if only for tea, ever since the hotel reopened a few years ago. (You can read more about it here and here.)

I think I last visited Morecambe c1975 and even then people were cracking jokes about watching the traffic lights change.

This afternoon I discovered this old Alan Bennett play. If you go to 47.34 you'll see his elderly couple, newly retired to Morecambe - surely based on his Mam and Dad - having tea at the old shabby genteel Midland. Look out for the Eric Gill mural. Then they're off for a run up to Windermere, which is where I'm heading next.

By 'eck ... it made me feel ancient.

Now can anyone recommend somewhere for a nice cup of tea and a nice clean loo?

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Was I a bit churlish to come away from the Tate's British Folk Art exhibition feeling unenthusiastic? On the whole, I agree with the Royal Academy's decree of 1768/9 that 'no needlework, artificial flowers, cut paper, shellwork, or any such baubles should be admitted.'

(I wouldn't admit Phyllida Barlow's bloody awful installation either, which looks like the contents of a builder's skip, but the Duveen galleries - one of the grandest spaces in London - have been a dog's dinner ever since they moved the sculpture out.)

But folk art ... I can see that some of it has charm, but a museum setting renders it lifeless. The goose lady collage is one of many churned out by an enterprising tailor to sell as tourist souvenirs. The chicken was skilfully made out of dinner bones by a French prisoner of war.

Then there is the truly dire ... like the crewelwork Old Masters worked by Mary Linwood who had an international reputation and whose gallery in Leicester Square was the first to be lit by gaslight. Think of the skill and the hours of painstaking work that went into stitching Rembrandt's mother or a portrait of Napoleon or a simpering Reynolds' maiden ... so much female effort to such banal effect. But at least she seems to have made a successful living from it.

It isn't a big exhibition, but by the end I was bored ... en masse it's just stuff. I caught it just before it closed at Tate Britain, but it's moving on to Compton Verney - where the folk art collection is beautifully displayed - and I suspect it will look better in a more domestic space.

On my way home, I stopped off at the Photographers' Gallery - for no particular reason, only that I was passing - and happened on this exhibition of early Russian colour photography that turned out to be  fascinating. Free to get in, with some unexpected insights into Russian history.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

This is a lovely book for this time of year and Diana Henry's recipes remind me that autumnal food is probably my favourite. I made her wheaten bread this morning, a sweeter crumb than my usual soda bread.

Last night's dinner was a veal chop with Nigel's pear, watercress and fennel salad an old favourite from here.

And this Victoria plum cake is in the oven right now.

On the autumnal downside, there is an enormous wasps' nest right on top of the trapdoor into the loft.

September 3, 1939: For a week, everybody in London had been saying every day that if there wasn't a war tomorrow there wouldn't be a war. Yesterday, people were saying that if there wasn't a war today it would be a bloody shame. Now that there is war, the English, slow to start, have already in spirit started and are comfortably two laps ahead of the official war macahine, which had to await the drop of somebody's handkerchief. In the general opinion, Hitler has got it coming to him.

Slowly reading Mollie Panter-Downes' London War Notes over the last couple of weeks has been like a daily war bulletin from the home front, with up to the minute news of what Londoners were thinking/ talking about, moaning about/cheerfully putting up with as the war progressed.

And as soon as I finished, I discovered that this book - none too easy to track down at present - is going to be one of Persephone's titles next year. (Mollie isn't as chit-chatty as Nella Last, though; there's quite a lot of politics and hard news as well as social history.)

But it's the interesting snippets that fascinate me most:

January 4, 1940: Old men and women call to find out if they can be evacuated to safe areas and the bureaus try to find billets for them, but it isn't easy. "Old and infirm people take a good deal of looking after and people grow tired of them" is the official explanation - a full-length tragedy in seventeen words.

August 19, 1941: Often chagrined customers, after pointing wrathfully to displays of Scotch and rye in a shop window, discover that the bottles are dummies. The resulting skepticism about the nature of things sometimes has unfortunate results as when a housewife stared coldly at a mound of lemons in her greengrocer's shop under the gloomy impression that they were hollow papier-mâché mockeries. She discovered later, after they were all gone, that they were part of a crate of the genuine article which had just come in that morning.

December 21, 1941: The shopping streets have been crowded with people who, however much Singapore is graven on their hearts, carry on their brows the unmistakeable lines of anguished worrying over what to give Aunt Ethel. They have been lucky if all they have had to carry were lines on their foreheads, since the shops require customers to take away their purchases, and this, coupled with a lack of wrapping paper, has made most shoppers look like harassed and cruelly over-loaded camels. Enterprising gift hunters have been toting suitcases around with them, and the resulting casualties among the young in crowded stores prompted a Times reporter to remark, "Many people have discovered how large a proportion of small children are in height just about suitcase level."

December 27, 1942: Mr Bevin's plans for a further call-up of employees in the retail trades are sweeping. Luxury shops, on which the Minister has naturally come down hardest, won't have a salesgirl under forty-five ... Perhaps the only Mayfair tradesmen who weren't gloomy about the prospects last week were the hairdressers, to whom Mr Bevin thoughtfully accorded easier terms for keeping their key operators out of the factories, since a neat head is held to be an invaluable booster of feminine morale, as much for factory girls themselves as for that now rare species, the lady of leisure.